Occupy Vancouver clears out fire hazards
Occupy Vancouver protesters are clearing their tent city of open flames, propane tanks and other fire hazards after the city was granted an interim court order.
Under the interim order from B.C. Supreme Court Judge Anne MacKenzie, demonstrators will need to fully comply with fire safety guidelines by 2 p.m. Thursday.
City lawyers have spent the past two days in court arguing for a permanent end to the tent city that was set up behind the Vancouver Art Gallery almost four weeks ago. They're also seeking the authority for police to arrest and remove anyone who interferes with the camp's dismantling.
MacKenzie has adjourned proceedings for a week to allow lawyers for the Occupy group more time to mount a defence.
Meanwhile, protesters say they're doing their best to remove a violent contingent from their camp and will welcome fire safety inspections. By Wednesday afternoon, they were moving tents and removing tarps to comply with firefighters' orders.
A tweet from the Occupy Vancouver account Wednesday evening suggested that the protesters planned to build "large geodesic domes to improve safety, health and fire issues."
On Tuesday, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu stated that the protest has been infiltrated by a "violent element," something protesters at the site acknowledge as a problem.
"Some people want to get violent and want to push back and they're bitter and they're angry," Occupy participant Xandra Moss said. "Other people, they think this is a terrible idea. Personally, I'm of the belief that we should never be violent. That's not what we're about."
Chu issued a warning to legitimate protesters that it is time to leave, or be caught up in "whatever violence may be initiated by those among you." He said police will wait until the terms of an injunction order are given to comment on how the camp will be cleared out.
Previously defiant protesters made moves toward reconciling with authorities Tuesday night, voting at the Occupy general assembly to submit to fire inspections and to ban propane heaters and open flames in tents.
They also agreed to space out tents in the camp, covering almost all of the safety demands issued by Vancouver's Fire Chief John McKearney last week. The chief also asked that all tarps and canopies be removed.
Tuesday's injunction hearing was put over so that Occupy protesters could prepare a proper argument for their case.
The BC Civil Liberties Association has agreed to help the group find a lawyer, but executive director David Eby said he expects an injunction to be granted soon.
"The question is, what will the level of it be? What will the conditions be? And their lawyer will be arguing for the least restrictive injunction that… will allow maximum free expression by the group while protecting public safety."
Whether protesters have a right to erect structures will be a key issue in the hearing. The city successfully prohibited Falun Gong demonstrators from maintaining a sign in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street, and Eby said Occupy protesters have a much more difficult case to make.
"In that case, the sign was not blocking the sidewalk, there were no known safety issues… it was a very different set of facts," he said.
Recent events have turned the heat up at Vancouver's Occupy camp, beginning with a non-fatal overdose inside a tent last Thursday. Two days later, 23-year-old Ashlie Gough suddenly died at the site; the cause has not been determined.
On Monday night, protesters clashed with police and firefighters over a ceremonial fire described as sacred to First Nations protesters.
Video showed protesters pushed to the ground by police as other occupiers shouted obscenities. Chief Chu said officers were kicked, punched and bitten in the confrontation. One officer also allegedly had his ammunition clip stolen.
Protester Moss said she could understand why police and firefighters moved in, as authorities have been clear that open fires are not allowed at the camp.
"All we need to do is cover it with mesh. It would take about five seconds of work and they would not come in again," Moss said. "I don't want to disobey the law… these people are just refusing to put mesh over a fire."
Some at the site have also pledged to remove anyone caught trafficking drugs.
Despite the conciliatory attitude adopted by many at the site, several protesters have said they will refuse to vacate even if an injunction is granted.