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Decision Day for Occupy Toronto
In St. James Park, the people’s microphone, or the conventional one, is open to all who wish to speak their mind.
But for the Occupy Toronto movement, on the eve of eviction should a judge side with the city Monday morning, the struggle for legitimacy and a clear message in the political arena was being lost in the muddle of voices.
At 9 a.m. Monday, protesters will find out if Justice David Brown rules city officials have the authority to evict protesters’ tents from the park and impose an evening curfew.
Protesters were granted a reprieve last week when Brown allowed a temporary injunction to a city eviction notice handed out in the camp on Tuesday.
Occupiers called a news conference Sunday afternoon to present media with new information about a land transfer document they hope will allow the church to provide sanctuary in the event of eviction.
Mid-announcement, fringe mayoral candidate Kevin Clarke, wearing a tattered red bath robe over a pinstriped suit, hijacked the stand of microphones on the lawn in front of the cathedral to voice his own concerns.
Further disruption came when an announcement was made that fireworks had been found last week inside the tent of a man occupiers called “violent.”
The man had been removed from the camp by police after he reportedly threw a hot bowl of chili in another occupier’s face.
The fireworks were found and handed over to police after the man’s tent was cleared to dismantle it.
But it’s not the first sign of fracture within the community.
Bryan Batty, who has been actively involved in the movement for more than a month, said it’s their own process that’s detracting from the movement’s purpose and their ability to organize.
“The process structure here in Toronto does not allow for action to occur,” he said.
Batty, a business administration student at Humber College, who was arrested during the G20, said he visited Occupy Wall Street two weeks ago.
In New York, he said the movement is able to meet in the hundreds and move proposals for action.
“Then I came back here and it’s the most infuriating ever some days,” he said. “You can’t do anything.”
At the end of the day, he said, the movement is about change — focusing on greed, accountability, self-responsibility and transparency in government.
“That’s all we’re really saying,” he said.
But he said he can understand the animosity Torontonians feel toward the movement.
Not everyone is in the park to constructively support that change, he said.
Gerald Parker, a member of the church and the movement said the park should be the place where everyone can be heard.
“Vulnerable people have been frequenting here since it’s been built,” Parker said. “They should get the same respect.”
But on pressing topics, including eviction, it appears the multitude of voices have yet to create a concrete plan of action.
What has been decided is that some people are willing to stay and resist arrest and some are not.
Batty said if eviction is imminent, the group will meet immediately to separate themselves into those groups.
Some occupiers will attempt to protect, or gather near, key symbols in the park — the gazebo, yurts and sacred fire — which represent freedom of expression, knowledge and religion, Batty said.
It is agreed that those who would resist police will link arms, they will let their bodies go limp and they will continue to occupy tents in defiance of eviction.
Occupiers are now hoping new information that the western portion of the park remains sole property of St. James Cathedral, they say is according to a 1959 land transfer agreement, will allow church authorities to provide them sanctuary.
Rev. Douglas Stoute, dean of St. James Cathedral, told reporters last week the church’s agreement with the city is that the park is treated as one parcel of land, so they would not interfere with an eviction.
Justice Brown questioned the movement’s right to indefinitely occupy the park in court last week, also citing neighbourhood noise complaints and thousands of dollars in damage outlined in a city affidavit.
Occupiers said they would be meeting with church officials Monday to discuss their options.
But everything else is still up for discussion, at daily meetings where the mike remains open.
Concerns expressed at these meetings have ranged from questioning where all the birds have gone, to when and where to hold a dance party, or simply to tell others they are loved.
At an evening general assembly meeting on Sunday, occupiers argued over points of process and accusations were made that one protesters tent had been slashed open.
At times, facilitators trying to mediate the process were drowned out by louder voices.
“Mike check!” they yelled, in an attempt to focus the assembly and have everyone repeat along.
When at least two protesters confronted each other, screaming, the meeting descended into chaos and took several minutes to resume regular discussion.
“Mike check!” they yelled.
“Unbelievable,” someone could be heard muttering. “We’ve got more important things.”