Occupy protesters without a home, for now

Occupy Vancouver's tents are on hiatus after three evictions, but the group's nightly meeting continues -- on the heels of a barbed letter to Premier Christy Clark.

City workers and police remove a tent Tuesday in front of the downtown law courts after the province won an injunction to remove Occupy Vancouver. Photo by David P. Ball

Occupy Vancouver has disbanded its tent city after an unsuccessful "whack-a-mole" strategy that saw it popping up everywhere from the art gallery to the courthouse to an East Van park this week.

But Thursday, protesters who have taken aim at economic inequality protest reconvened for their nightly General Assembly (GA) at their original location -- the Vancouver Art Gallery , but without tents -- to figure out their next steps.
 
The GA -- planned to be held at 7 p.m. nightly at the art gallery -- came on the heels of a barbed letter to Premier Christy Clark, released by Occupy Vancouver's press room Thursday morning. In it, protesters criticized Clark's comments on Monday that said  “(Occupy is) undermining whatever cause it was they were promoting in the first place, and it's just, it's time to pack up and leave.”
 
Thursday, the group responded:
 
“Occupy Vancouver did not set out to 'make a point,'” their statement said. “Our commitment is to change a corrupt and destructive system that serves less than one per cent of the people and disadvantages the rest.
 
“It is a global system with serious local consequences. We won't be moving on. The Occupy movement is here to stay.”
 
The open letter goes on to accuse Clark of hypocrisy for stating that an injunction against the camp was necessary because the group had ignored “the spirit of the court ruling” evicting them from the art gallery on Monday.
 
“This is something with which you and your government should be familiar,” said the letter, citing the B.C. Liberals' 2002 passage of Bill 29, which effectively tore up contracts with hospital employees. It also pointed to Clark's role as education minister in violating teacher contracts by increasing class sizes, which was scolded by the Supreme Court.
 
“The corruption in your government and in your own office indicate that you are spending too much time worrying about our exercise of democracy and not enough looking in your own.”
 
The group's letter ends with an invitation to Clark to join the discussion about inequality.
 
“Premier, if you are truly concerned with families and their future, join us instead of criticizing what we are working to accomplish,” the group wrote. “Occupy Vancouver stands for an end to corporate influence over government, an end to corruption, and an end to the systematic advantaging of the rich over the poor by the powerful.”
 
“If you truly stand for democracy, we invite you to join us in conversation.”
 
Clark's office did not return the Vancouver Observer's request for comment.
 
But others are calling the premier's statements about Occupy Vancouver problematic, saying that she is focusing on the encampment without addressing the issues – economic inequality and corporate influence on government -- that the movement raises.
 
“Dismissing it that way misses the point,” said Seth Klein, B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “We're only talking about this because the Occupy movement has fundamentally changed the conversation.
 
“We've been writing about this for years, but they accomplished more in three weeks in terms of shifting the conversation than in all of that time. I marvel at that.”
 
Klein said there was merit to Occupy Vancouver's letter – accusing Clark of making contradictory statements about the “spirit of the court ruling” considering her own government has run afoul of the courts on a number of occasions.
 
“This government has broken the law on a number of occasions,” he said. “More to the point, this cuts to the core of what Occupy's all about and what Occupy is tapping into.
 
“The vandals in all of this have not been indicted and no one's gone to jail. When we think of who's actually wreaked havoc on the economy and foreclosed on people's homes, that's the point.”
 
The province's injunction came after Occupy Vancouver relocated its tent city Monday from the art gallery lawns to the entrance of the provincial law courts just a block away. Lawyers acting for the province argued that the encampment impeded access to the courts, and violating anti-camping bylaws.
 
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said that the province's attempt to get a blanket city-wide injunction against Occupy Vancouver was “a gross overreach attempting to violate the rights of free assembly,” and praised the justice's ruling that only a single location could be covered.
 
“The justice appropriately did not grant that application,” Eby said. “It would have created a special set of rules, where if one person breaks a bylaw, then they just get a fine, but if you're from Occupy Vancouver and you break a bylaw, you potentially go to jail. That was very problematic.
 
“It was clear the group was violating bylaws. From the beginning, the police never needed an injunction to enforce city bylaws. The issue is around the structures and the residential camping.”
 
Eby said his group has been monitoring the protest since it began on Oct. 15, ensuring authorities do not overstep the boundaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in policing the demonstration, which is part of a 2,500-city global protest against economic power concentrated in the richest one per cent.
 
As a lawyer and former New Democratic Party provincial candidate, Eby has also provided unofficial legal advice to demonstrators through her personal blog throughout the Occupy encampment. His advice now, he said, is for the movement to clearly decide where its best tactics lie.
 
“It all hinges on whether Occupy Vancouver wants to engage in civil disobedience, or whether they want to get as close to the edge of the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as possible without going over the edge,” he suggested. “If they want to stay within the law, the law's pretty clear – you can have your temporary structures, but they can't be blocking other peoples' use of the property or be unsafe, and they don't include the right to camp.
 
“But if they want to engage in civil disobedience, then make the conscious decision to do that, and do it. The nature of civil disobedience is you are disobedient. They need to make decisions for themselves about what will best advance their cause.”
 
Occupy organizers pointed out that the art gallery encampment successfully found housing for 16 homeless people – a small success in their minds -- with at least 11 more among them hoping for safe housing to be available.
 
Klein will be speaking tonight at an event at the Vancouver Public Library downtown -- 'Who are the 99%: The Occupy Together Movement' -- from 6-8 p.m., alongside Harjap Grewal (Council of Canadians & No One Is Illegal), Richard Porteous (Occupy Vancouver), Glen Coulthard (UBC First Nations programme), Lorene Oikawa (BCGEU) and Jean Swanson (Carnegie Community Action Project).

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