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TORONTO—November 15 was a whirlwind day for Occupy Toronto. Residents woke to the news that an eviction order had been issued for midnight that night. At the same time, word arrived that New York's Occupy Wall Street, the heart of the Occupy Movement, was being evicted from Zuccotti park. A morning march in solidarity with protesters in New York resulted in two arrests.
Bylaw officers soon entered the park, tagging tents and other structures with eviction notices. Camp organizers met with clergy from St. James Cathedral, which technically owns a portion of the land the camp is situated on, and a General Assembly convened to discuss potential responses. The camp buzzed with nervous energy as people prepared for an eviction and the possibility of police violence. A surge of support for Occupy Toronto became evident as the day wore on, with large numbers of people streaming into St. James, and prominent support coming from unions and even some celebrities, including renowned folk singer Gordon Lightfoot.
Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, released an "Open Letter to Rob Ford": "Please take this letter as formal notice that I will be personally joining the occupiers in St. James Park tonight, along with many other labour activists and community leaders, to link arms with the Occupy Movement. We are all part of the 99 per cent. [We] have a long and proud history of support for civil disobedience. It represents the finest instincts of citizens in a democracy to correct the actions of their governments...without it, there would have been no Civil Rights, women’s rights, environmental or other seminal movements that have changed the course of history."
The eviction order, signed by City Manager Joe Pennachetti, states that protesters are being evicted due to business complaints and the need to winterize the park. While media have highlighted several complaints from business owners, the Toronto Media Co-op has reported on several business owners in the area who are supportive of or benign to the Occupy site.
Julie, a City Liaison from Occupy Toronto, said that occupiers were more than willing to help with the process of winterizing the park. “Of course we care about the park, we live in it,” she told the Media Co-op. “I contacted five people at the Parks and Rec department. The only one I could get on the phone told me that he had been instructed not to speak with people from Occupy. I left very polite messages on Thursday the 10th and Monday the 14th with four other city workers indicating our willingness to cooperate with them, and received no reply.” Lana Goldberg, another protester living at the camp, says the city has not approached Occupy Toronto regarding winterizing the park. “We would obviously be willing to work with them on doing so,” she said.
Late in the day, the tide had shifted. As a result of negotiations through the church, police had promised not to follow through with a midnight raid, and a ruling on an injunction filed by several camp members against the eviction came down. Lawyers from Green and Chercover successfully argued for a stay against the eviction until a full hearing could be held to determine its legality. The injunction was granted at 5:30pm November 15, giving the camp a temporary reprieve. The legal teams are scheduled to debate the ruling in court today, Friday, November 18, with a final decision from the judge on Monday, November 23. The lawyers for the occupiers are expected to argue that Charter of Rights and Freedoms, namely freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, protect protestors from any action against the camp.
“I think this case is about whether city by-laws trump Charter rights, which is pretty incredible if you think about it,” said Dave Vasey, an occupier living at the camp who sits on a number of committees. Meanwhile, 11 city councilors have signed a letter calling on the mayor to stop the eviction.
Some activists were unhappy with attempts to call off a planned rally in solidarity with Occupy Toronto, and with the injunction itself. Bruce Darden said “I think it's irresponsible for anyone to ever demobilize people, to thwart community members' desires or will to action...The effect [it will have] is that people will continue to look to the institutions of the one per cent, that of the courts, to solve our problems instead of trying to act together and to deal with our issue in collective spaces like the park.” In spite of this development, a large crowd gathered in St. James for a General Assembly, which went late into the night.
Protestors have vowed to stay and continue to fight the eviction.
Justin Saunders is an information technologist and journalist based in Toronto. Megan Kinch is an activist and journalist in Toronto.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.