Ex-APEC activist thwarts Robson Square occupation

Occupy Vancouver leaves courthouse camp, fails to find East Side home

Fourteen years ago this week, Craig Jones was on the other side of the equation.

The lawyer for the B.C. Attorney General's ministry was granted a B.C. Supreme Court order Tuesday to evict the Occupy Vancouver tent village from the provincial government's Robson Square complex, the day after a previous court order forced the protest camp off the Vancouver Art Gallery's north plaza.

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Jones was a law student at the University of B.C. on Nov. 25, 1997 when RCMP officers arrested him for placing paper signs reading "democracy," "human rights," and "free speech" on fences near the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Students were protesting against the meeting that included controversial leaders like Indonesia's Suharto and China's Jiang Zemin. The RCMP lost control of what began as a peaceful protest by 2,500 people. Dozens were pepper-sprayed and 48 people were arrested.

Occupy Vancouver, which began Oct. 15, is arguably the most famous protest in Vancouver since APEC but altogether different, Jones said.

"I really don't think there is any comparison," Jones said outside the Law Courts. "We wanted to articulate very carefully in this case that we didn't intend to do anything that would infringe people's lawful rights to protest."

Jones said the government objected to the campers' obstruction and interference with the fundamental right of citizens to access the courthouse.

"The erection of these structures, which we said changes the character of this building from a welcoming courthouse to one that people are going to be discouraged from," Jones said.

Jones presented the court an affidavit by Supt. Ross McKenna, who is Robson Square's head court sheriff. On Monday night, McKenna noticed 28 tents near the Provincial Court and Asia Pacific Business Centre entrances. Campers had plugged in to electricity and accessed the water supply.

Jones said security had to be stepped up at the complex because of the camp. Some court proceedings were in jeopardy of adjournment.

Court visitors and workers arrived Tuesday morning to find part of the courthouse parkade empty and behind closed doors because of the heightened level of security.

Jones used the ministry's right to an urgent hearing without notice to Occupy Vancouver before Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie, the same judge who granted the City of Vancouver its injunction last Friday.

MacKenzie ordered the camp disbanded by 5 p.m. Tuesday. She denied Jones's request for an order to prevent an Occupy Vancouver tent village from reappearing on other public lands elsewhere in the City of Vancouver.

"To control something that may or may not happen in the future is speculative," MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie's order permitted Vancouver police, RCMP, other municipal police and court sheriffs to make arrests of resisters at Robson Square. Before the order was granted, however, many of the protesters had packed up because a rumour circulated that they had only 45 minutes to leave.

Shortly after 5 p.m., with Vancouver Police and court sheriffs watching from afar, protesters marched out of Robson Square with a dome tent frame through streets to Cathedral Square before taking SkyTrain to Broadway Station and marching to Grandview Park. An Occupy member told his cohorts that the park was officially closed to the public at 10 p.m. and they risked bylaw fines or worse if they made it their new campsite. Park board general manager Malcolm Bromley arrived at the park at 6:15 p.m. with two police officers and told the assembled group that no tents would be allowed. Several area residents appeared and told the group and media that they didn't want a campground in their neighbourhood.

"There's lots of protests, there's lots of parades," Margaret Scott-Peters told the Courier. "We love it, but please don't set up your tents. Everybody's welcome in the park, but not overnight."

As the group convened a general assembly in driving rain, several police vehicles gathered near Commercial and Venables. Police officers, firefighters and park rangers watched from the margins. Bromley convinced several homeless people to go to shelters via civic-paid taxi rides.

The general assembly debated whether to defy park bylaws and camp in the rain or move to Stanley Park. Several speakers mistakenly believed Stanley Park is federal land. It is, however, leased by City of Vancouver and the same bylaws apply as at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

As the conditions grew colder and wetter, Occupy Vancouver resolved to reconvene late Wednesday morning at Grandview Park to plot its next move. Many found refuge Tuesday night in the dry, warm confines of the Centre for Socialist Education at 706 Clark Dr.

(This story was updated with new information after it was first posted Nov. 22.)

2010goldrush@gmail.com

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