It's been just over five weeks since we first heard about the threat of a campground on the front lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Now that we've had one death and one near fatal overdose, the City of Vancouver has finally decided to staple a "notice" of eviction at the Occupy Vancouver site. It's not technically an eviction order, but it is a nice way of saying they would like the squatters to kindly pack up their bags and head out of dodge.
What follows is excerpts from my new book entitled Occupy Vancouver for Dummies: Anatomy of a protest. It's a rough timeline of events over the last few weeks so we can all keep track of who said what and when. If I've missed anything, be sure to let me know and I'll add it in later!
Oct 2-4 - Media reports begin surfacing that a Occupy Wall Street-like protest might be coming to Vancouver. A rag tag group of protesters are interviewed by the media regarding how they want to support their brothers and sisters in New York by setting up a similar camp in Vancouver.
Oct 11 - A member of the City's new Large Events Oversight Committee writes an email stating:
I attended a meeting this afternoon organized by the City of Vancouver to discuss how it will deal with Occupy Vancouver.
In short, the City will not allow an encampment to set up on the north lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). It will not allow cooking facilities to set up. It will not allow porta potties to be installed.
Oct 14 - The Mayor continues to remain silent, but mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton issues a statement regarding the pending Occupy protest:
NPA Candidate for Mayor Suzanne Anton is asking Gregor Robertson to tell citizens and businesses how he is planning to deal with the Occupy Vancouver demonstration planned for Saturday.
Anton says businesses are already incurring costs trying to protect their property and bracing for a slow down as shoppers stay away from downtown.
“It is fine to protest and express opinions,” says Anton, “but the public and small businesses in the downtown core are concerned about safety and the disruption to our economy.”
Anton is asking what Mayor Gregor Robertson’s plan is and when he will be letting people know about it?
Oct 14 - A group of senior managers decides to overrule the recommendations of the Large Events Oversight Committee (LEOC). They tell the media on Nov 10th that it was fear of a potential riot that made them do it. The Chief of Police and City Manager were on this small staff committee. The Mayor was briefed regarding their decision and he supported it.
Oct 15 - About 4000 union leaders and activists converge on downtown Vancouver. A small handful of protesters begin installing structures (tents, kitchens etc...) on the front lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. City staff make no attempt to stop them from setting up camp.
Oct 15 - Exuberant staff at city hall tweet the following message out to campers reassuring them they have nothing to fear:
#occupyvancouver rumour you will be kicked out at 10pm false, but pls allow others nearby to sleep tonight by lowering PA volume!
Oct 18 - The Mayor of Vancouver finally speaks out on the issue of the encampment. After several days of positive media for the protest movement, The Vancouver Sun reports:
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Monday he is content to allow the Occupy Vancouver protest to continue downtown because it is touching on important worldwide social issues...
“There are very legitimate concerns about equality, climate change and the state of the world that almost all of us share and we are willing to see what a global protest like this might precipitate,” he said...
The Occupy Vancouver tent city at the art gallery is unlike some of the tent cities that Vancouver has shut down in the past, including ones around the 2010 Olympics, the Athletes Village and the squat at the former Woodward’s Department store.
Robertson said those protests descended into criminality and involved significant health and safety issues. The Occupy Vancouver event is different because the protesters themselves are trying to keep it operating peacefully, he said.
“I believe this movement has a lot of support and kudos to the protesters and police for keeping it constructive and peaceful,” he said.
“I think everyone’s waiting to see what takes shape in terms of outcomes and agendas. There is a lot of energy around it and it has yet to be seen what results from this.”
Oct 21 - The Mayor says the cost to taxpayers of Occupy Vancouver is around $520,000. He claims it will only cost $1000 per day moving forward. In the days that follow it's clear the $1000 estimate was way too optimistic.
Oct 27 - Mayor Gregor does an interview with CBC's Stephen Quinn. He tells the CBC that no laws are being broken at the Occupy encampment. Here is an excerpt from my 24 Hours Vancouver column:
In an interview with CBC Radio’s Stephen Quinn, Robertson was asked to provide clarification regarding this bizarre interpretation of who has legal jurisdiction over the art gallery.
Quinn asks “Sorry I’m unclear here then. This is provincial property; therefore, the city by-laws don’t apply. Is that what you’re telling me?”
“That’s right,” responded Robertson.
Well actually, that’s wrong. Within 24 hours of that interview, city officials were forced to clarify that the city does in fact have legal jurisdiction over the encampment.
Quinn then grilled the mayor regarding whether he thought the squatters were actually breaking any laws. Robertson responded,“In terms of how we interpret the bylaws, they are not right now.”
Nov 3 - Emergency personnel are called to the Occupy Vancouver site to help a man who is apparently unresponsive. Media reports state the individual almost died of an overdose. Protesters tell media to get off the grounds of the Art Gallery as they aren't welcome.
Nov 4 - The Fire Chief says many of the Occupy tents have to go now that he's discovered propane tanks and unsafe structures on site. He gives the protesters until 10 am on Saturday to pack up their illegal tents.
Nov 4 - Enquiring minds want to know why Mayor Robertson has never been seen in public at the Occupy Vancouver encampment. In response, Kevin Quinlan (Mayor's communications guy) tweets out:
@citycaucus he's actually gone down several times. nice try though. have a great weekend!
Nov 5 - Falun Gong alleges a double standard exisits regarding how they were treated compared to the Occupy Vancouver squat. They hold a news conference with David Eby who is the Executive Director for the BC Civil Liberties Association. They say they will take the City of Vancouver to the Supreme Court - and no doubt they will cite the Occupy Vancouver squat as Exhibit A.
Nov 5 - The 10 am deadline set by the Fire Department to clean up Occupy Vancouver comes and goes. The provisional Occupy Vancouver government says the laws of the city don't apply to them as they are an "autonomous state".
Nov 5 - A young 23 year old trucker shows up to the Occupy Vancouver tent city with a sign that says "End Tent City Now". He claims he received no fewer than seven death threats as a result.
Nov 5 - An Occupy Vancouver camper is found dead in her tent. Violent outbreaks occur between the media and protesters. The Mayor shows up (flanked by police officers) late in the evening to advise the media that the tents have to go.
Nov 6 - Vancouver Courier contributing writer Bob Mackin posts to his blog:
During the scrum, I asked the Mayor if he would walk down the sidewalk, turn the corner to the tent village and meet the residents. I also asked him if he had been there yet.
He didn’t answer the first part of my question, but said: “I've been on this site many times over the last couple of weeks... every day over the last several weeks.”
“I have not seen him once,” said Chris Shaw, a volunteer medic and well-known anti-Olympic activist and author. “The Mayor is playing politics with a tragic incident, if it happened two blocks away he would not have cared.”
“I've never seen him down here,” said Eric Hamilton-Smith. “I'm down here a lot, most of the time I'm usually in the tent getting some work done. I can't speak to the fact that he says he's been here. I don't want to call him a liar, but I've never seen him personally.”
I’m hoping the Office of the Mayor will disclose the days and times of the Mayor’s Occupy Vancouver visits. There is no reason to keep such visits secret. If I’m forced to file a Freedom of Information, it could be a long wait.
Anton visited the camp on Oct. 31. She returned there on Nov. 6 to pay condolences to Gough.
Nov 7 - City of Vancouver attaches a "notice" to a chain fence that they want Occupy Vancouver to vacate the premises "immediately". They also confirm they are going to file a court injunction to remove the tents and structures.
Nov 7 - Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton go head-to-head in a radio debate on the Bill Good Show. The Mayor had the audacity to claim he NEVER said the Occupy protest camp could stay there "indefinitely". He also said "the encampment has never been acceptable. It's against city by-laws and we've been clear about that all long". Hard to believe His Worship kept a straight face saying that doozie of a nose-stretcher!
Nov 7 - The Dependent Magazine reports the City of Vancouver is negotiating with protesters to move them indoors. They state:
According to a key Occupy organizer, protesters are in negotiations with the city to move to a warehouse following the shut down order issued by Mayor Gregor Robertson.
James “Facilitator,” (who would not give his last name) has been with the movement since its inception. He was responsible for negotiating free power from the city during Occupy’s first weekend, and said he’s been having back-channel negotiations with the city’s deputy managers throughout the occupation.
“The vehicle is not us being here, it’s the vehicle of awareness,” James said. “I’ve put it forth to the City that, if they can find us a spot, like an empty warehouse or something where we can put everything like the press committee and even the food we can still feed people if we need to, but move the vehicle away from here.”
Councillor Andrea Reimer confirmed negotiations have been going on since day one of the protest, and that moving the camp indoors is currently on the table.
“We’ve been talking with people from the movement since day one, the deputy city manager has been the lead on it,” Reimer said. According to Reimer, Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston has been in talks with James and other organizers from the movement to find a place that is “more suitable” for its needs.
“[The Art Gallery grounds] is not an ideal space,” Reimer said. “If they had somewhere with concrete, that drained a little better, that would be a better space for such a thing. I know that that discussion has been going on. Facilitating the movement itself would probably best be done from an indoor space where they could have things like offices.”
Nov 8 -The Vancouver Sun's Ian Mulgrew writes a stinging rebuke of the Mayor's mishandling of the Occupy Vancouver encampment. He writes:
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is hoist by his own petard.
After inviting the Occupy protesters to come on down and hang out "indefinitely," the Happy Planet, chicken-inevery-backyard, wheat fieldsinstead-of-lawns politician is parsing his own sentences.
He meant they could "indefinitely" protest, not "indefinitely" camp on the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza.
On the weekend, Robertson appears to have realized - sometime after the death of 23-year-old Ashlie Gough in an Occupy tent - that Woodstock was 40 years ago and even Wavy Gravy warned the hippies about the brown acid.
Suzanne Anton got it right. The Occupy Movement should have been told from the start: Protesting is fine; camping and building structures on public property is not.
Nov 10 - Mayor Robertson denies the Large Events Oversight Committee ever recommended preventing the establishment of tents at the Art Gallery. This is despite the email from Mr. Gauthier who sits as an observer on the committee.
Nov 13 - Mayor Robertson tells media he is "contemplating" cutting off free power to the illegal Occupy Vancouver squat. 24 Hours Vancouver reports:
Mayor Gregor Robertson is considering pulling the plug on the electrical supply to Occupy Vancouver.
“Power will be shut off, particularly if there isn’t compliance with the fire bylaw and the land-use bylaw,” Robertson said Sunday during a press conference.
“We’re not comfortable with that if (electricity’s) being used to build more structures and tents, so city staff have been taking a much harder line this weekend.”
Nov 16 - The Province newspaper has a cover story that Mayor Gregor has set a firm deadline of shutting down the illegal encampment by the Grey Cup. But Vision Vancouver claims the Province newspaper took that quote out of context. Then the Vancouver Sun reports the following:
Meanwhile, Robertson said Wednesday he wants the tent city at Occupy Vancouver gone by Grey Cup weekend, Nov. 27.
But he said the city isn't going to issue an ultimatum, especially since it wants to resolve the protest peacefully.
In an interview with The Province's editorial board Robertson sounded forceful, wanting to have the camp gone by Grey Cup weekend.
"I want to see [the encampment] gone before the Grey Cup weekend," he said.
But in a subsequent statement to The Vancouver Sun, he was less strident, instead saying the injunction is an important tool in moving the protesters along.
"We want an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court as an additional tool to remove the tent city. People have the right to protest but the tent city needs to go. The City has serious concerns with the safety of the tent city," he said in the statement.
"Obviously we'd like it resolved by the Grey Cup weekend but we're not going to issue ultimatums, that hasn't worked in other cities. We're going to keep increasing pressure to remove the tents and the injunction will be a much stronger tool to do that. The consequences for defying an injunction are more severe and as a result we're in a better position to end the tent city while avoiding a violent confrontation."
This story isn't over...but you can expect now that this is all caught up in the courts the Mayor will say he can't do anything as his hands are tied. More to come...