Canada's Occupy Movement Remains Determined Despite Chilly Weather
OTTAWA — As the Canadian winter creeps closer and the mercury dips toward — or past — freezing, the Occupy movement in some cities has experienced its own drops in attendance, but the faces of the "99 per cent" continue to maintain their tented presence.
When Occupy sites in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Quebec City and other cities popped up last month following the massive turnout for Occupy Wall Street, motivation was high — and still appears that way — but deteriorating conditions, health concerns and threats of removal have overshadowed the sites' original purpose.
At Ottawa's Confederation Park, there were at least 50 tents — some in better shape than others — scattered across the site on a sunny, but brisk Friday afternoon.
Over a constant backdrop of hand drums and barking dogs, protesters chatted among themselves and offered information to passersby.
Kevin Donaghy, one of the organizers of Occupy Ottawa, said Friday that the movement in the nation's capital is making preparations for the colder months ahead and has no intentions of leaving.
"We're still growing and we're planning for the winter," Donaghy said. "The (National Capital Commission) has apparently said construction materials aren't allowed on site, but they haven't actually enforced that in any way, so we're planning on building semi-permanent structures (such as teepees), because these tents just aren't going to hold out much longer.
"I'm not going anywhere. I just put my one-month notice in on my apartment and I'm moving here permanently on Dec. 1. Hopefully that works out . . . and if worse comes to worse, I'll just couch surf. I've made a couple hundred new best friends over the last few weeks, so it won't be hard to find a place to crash."
Donaghy said the NCC has been "really accommodating" so far and he hopes that continues.
Earlier this week, a group of protesters residing in Ottawa's tent city said health and safety concerns have become a key issue in their demonstration.
Another Occupy Ottawa organizer, Greg Macdougall, said this week that "people do have concerns about the safety in the park."
Other members admitted that some of the movement's original founders had left the site "for a lot of different reasons," but said some had also returned. They also acknowledged there had been some expressions of concern about health matters, safety for women and the growing presence of older homeless people, but again those concerns were being addressed.
At least two groups who were attending the site ended their occupation after claiming a blanket covered in blood, urine and feces had been draped over their tent.
In Vancouver, some protesters agreed Friday to make changes to the structure of their tented community to abide by orders from city fire officials.
Occupy members stripped down a large tract of tarp covering a cluster of tents in response to concerns voiced by the Vancouver fire department.
On Thursday, the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service said the tarps would have to come down because the tightly packed tents they were covering created a fire hazard.
Fire chief John McKearney told reporters that he understands the consensus model of the Occupy movement does not lend itself to quick action and that fire officials will keep monitoring the site to make sure the tent city meets city bylaws.
Kiki, who declined to give her last name and identified herself as a spokeswoman for the tent council, said though the fire department edict carries no authority on the Occupy Vancouver site, and demonstrators have decided to take down the tarps themselves in order to ensure the safety of tent city residents.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Thursday that health and safety conditions were "degenerating" at the Occupy site after one person nearly died by drug overdose.
Meanwhile, protesters in Victoria have had to deal with municipal changes as the temperature drops.
Power and water were shut off at the Victoria park after city officials, citing concerns about frozen pipes, closed off an outdoor tap the Occupy Victoria protesters had been using. They now have to carry water from the Centennial Square's public washrooms, which are open around the clock.
Earlier this week, members of Occupy Victoria co-operated with authorities by moving their tents from the grassy area around a giant sequoia tree so that Christmas decorating could get underway.
In Quebec City Friday, officials took the first step toward evicting the Occupy movement from a downtown park, but the protesters said they have no intention of packing their bags and tents.
"We're here to stay and we're preparing for winter times," said Guy Wera, one of the organizers of the Occupy Quebec movement.
"We're pacifists and if the city want us out, they'll have to remove us," he added.
After initially supporting the movement, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume changed his mind Thursday night and ordered the protesters to take down their camp voluntarily or risk facing a police intervention.
However, the city didn't move to enforce its eviction order and only intervened at the site Friday to remove material that represented a fire hazard.
In the case of Occupy Calgary, protesters ended their occupation of one park after an offer came in to help some of the homeless members of the movement. Those stationed at a second site in the city, however, had no intention of moving.
Facing a rising political backlash, the protesters are collecting signatures in support of their right to continue camping in Olympic Plaza.
By the time the group had gathered about 300 signatures on a petition supporting the protester's charter rights favouring freedom of expression, another petition — encouraging the city to step in and remove the protesters — had exceeded 1,200 names.
With files from Marianne White, Postmedia News; Vancouver Sun; Calgary Herald and Victoria Times Colonist