Occupy's medium is its message, Toronto protesters argue

Tent cities are a "manifestation of what protesters are trying to create in the world," civil liberties group tells court.

Photo of Occupy Toronto courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Toronto, where a legal ruling on the Occupy tent camp is expected Monday morning, the Civil Liberties Association has won standing in court to argue against evicting the protesters.

At the centre of the group's case is the notion that the camp itself is key to the message of the protesters -- that the medium is, in effect, the message.

The group's lawyer has called the tent city an "exercise of conscience".

It isn't clear if the argument will sway the court as the hearing continued today in a countdown to Monday's decision.

The Canadian Press has the story:

TORONTO -- A prominent civil rights group has won court permission to get involved in the fight by Occupy Toronto protesters to stave off eviction from a downtown park.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association was given leave by Ontario Superior Court to intervene on the basis of its expertise in such cases.

Justice David Brown is hearing constitutional arguments today sparked by the city's attempt to get the Occupy protesters to leave St. James Park.

The city calls the protesters and their mini-tent village trespassers.

Their lawyer, Susan Ursel, is arguing the protest camp is an important part of the demonstrators' right to assemble and express their views.

"The encampment is an exercise of conscience,'' Ursel told court. "(It's a) manifestation of what they're trying to create in the world.''

Evicting the protesters would block the form of expression they have chosen, she argued.

But Brown took issue with the term eviction, noting the city is trying to enforce bylaws.

"The notice says you can use the park for political expression but ditch the tents and not during the midnight hours,'' he said.

The protesters took over the park a few blocks east of Bay Street a month ago as part of the global Occupy movement that started on Wall Street in September.

Some protesters have said they would defy any order to leave.

Five protesters fronted the legal challenge after city bylaw officials went tent-to-tent in the park to deliver eviction notices under bylaws after Mayor Rob Ford said he had complaints from area businesses.

Brown will issue his ruling Monday at 9 a.m.

In their application, the liberties association agreed that democratic rights were at stake.

"Some municipalities appear to have simply decided that protests have gone on long enough and should cease,'' the association said in a release.

"In a democracy, the right to protest does not end simply because it has become uncomfortable for some, or because some have decided that the message has been heard.''

Besides a written submission to the court, the association will also make brief oral arguments to back its contention that the limits cities seek "on core expressive freedoms'' are not reasonable.

"Mere avoidance of inconvenience, unease or discomfort to some members of the public is not a pressing and substantial objective for limiting charter rights,'' the association says in its written submission.

The rector of the Anglican cathedral said Thursday he had no authority to allow them to stay on part of the park that belongs to the church, and said they should leave if the court says they must.

Ursel said she did not know if there would be an appeal should the challenge fail.

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