Lawyer says Occupy Vancouver applied for permit

Court sheriffs search courtroom attendees

A lawyer defending Occupy Vancouver against a City of Vancouver bid to disband the camp told B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday that protesters unsuccessfully inquired about a permit for the

"The city said they would get back to the Occupy Vancouver participants," Jason Gratl told Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie. "They didn't open the door to discussions... Occupy Vancouver was rebuffed by the city manager."

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Gratl claimed Occupy Vancouver also approached potential users of the north plaza to ensure "compatible and harmonious" use of the land where the Occupy Wall Street-inspired protest against corporate greed began Oct. 15.

On the first day of an anticipated three-day injunction hearing, Gratl indicated half the Occupy Vancouver campers are homeless. He said their constitutional right to sleep under a temporary structure in public when no shelter beds exist should trump the City Land Regulation bylaw against tents and structures. Gratl said there are insufficient shelter beds in Vancouver and some facilities are unsafe for women.

"They have nowhere else to go," he said.

City hall lawyer Ben Parkin said any constitutional arguments, including freedom of expression and assembly, should be held some time after the court issues an order to enforce the land use, fire safety and trespassing bylaws. He said the 2008 B.C. Supreme Court ruling advanced by Gratl allows only "rudimentary shelter on a temporary basis," not a tent city.

Parkin said deputy community services general manager Brenda Prosken claimed in an affidavit that she encountered only one homeless person at Occupy Vancouver. Parkin said the Vancouver Art Gallery lands, leased since 1980 by the city under a 99-year deal with the province, "are a limited resource, there is competition for their use." He accused Gratl of "derailing" the city's application after the hearing became bogged down with procedural matters.

"There is an attempt here to delay this injunction by any possible means," Parkin said, inciting jeers from Occupy Vancouver members and supporters in the courtroom. "I could have finished my argument by now."

"There will be nothing from the gallery," MacKenzie sternly interrupted. "This is the warning."

Parkin said the campers disregarded written notices on three separate days to remove their tents and structures and failed to fully comply with MacKenzie's interim fire safety order issued Nov. 9.

The campers initially had cleanup crews, but "by the beginning of November, cleanup became erratic." Rat sightings have been reported and city staff have noticed burrowing, he said. Dome-style tents have proliferated, adding heaps of metal bars, plywood, sandbags and combustibles.

"Although some tents have been removed recently, other structures have continued to be built," Parkin said.

Parkin said the neighbouring art gallery even complained that marijuana fumes filled an exhibit area because campers were smoking near the building's air intake vent.

Ashlie Gough of Victoria fatally overdosed on cocaine and heroin Nov. 5, prompting the city's court application. A male camper from Arizona survived a heroin overdose on Nov. 3, but was returned to hospital the next day and transferred to a detox centre.

Attendees of the hearing in courtroom 55 at the Law Courts were searched by court sheriffs. One person unsuccessfully tried to bring a white judge's wig into the courtroom on Wednesday afternoon.

The court proceedings were scheduled to continue Thursday and Friday, after the Courier's print deadline.

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