What began as a protest to recognize social inequality, greed and a broken system has been reduced to a squabble over the location of tents.
Occupy Nanaimo, a group of about two dozen people living in makeshift structures in Diana Krall Plaza to protest corporate greed and dysfunctional politics, was advised by city officials that if they don’t dismantle their shelters and vacate the plaza, the city might seek a civil injunction to have them removed.
Occupy Nanaimo has occupied the public square for six weeks.
Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan gave the protesters until Thursday (Dec. 1) at 9 a.m. to leave or face legal action.
The city cited health, safety and security concerns for the occupiers as part of the reasoning to have them leave. Ruttan also said that some public functions have been cancelled, including showing the Grey Cup game on the outdoor big screen TV, as a result of the camp, and that some nearby businesses have complained.
“The City of Nanaimo fully recognizes the rights to freedom of expression,” said Ruttan. “Through a series of discussions we had hoped that the occupiers would vacate the plaza and pursue alternate communication methods to disseminate their message. This has not occurred and ongoing conversations with the occupiers have not brought about a solution.”
The city, which met with Occupy representatives as late as Monday morning, said it would enforce Parks Regulation Bylaw 2008 No. 7073, which does not allow for tents or structures overnight in public parks or open spaces, to have the tents removed and return the plaza to the public.
Notice was distributed to all occupiers on Monday.
Matthew O’Donnell, Occupy Nanaimo spokesman, said the occupiers are willing to leave Diana Krall Plaza only if a more suitable location in Nanaimo can be agreed upon.
“We want to work with the City of Nanaimo to create positive change for all members of the community,” he said. “Remember, everybody here is part of that 99 per cent.”
O’Donnell also stated that occupiers are not squatters, that the intent of the people involved is not to “hijack” the plaza, and that he has talked to nearby small business owners and that many of them do support the Occupy movement.
“We support small business and many of them do support our position,” he said.
Occupier Jesse Cummings said people taking part in the movement are there because they believe it’s the right thing to do.
“We want to sacrifice our own personal comforts for the sake of human rights,” she said. “Our camp may be small in comparison to those in larger cities, but it is symbolic of the occupy movement … the only exit strategy we can offer at this point would be another location to continue to demonstrate from which would have to be superior or equal to Diana Krall Plaza in visibility, location and accommodation to our needs.”
She added that though a small amount of people are camping in the plaza, hundreds more are actively working to spread Occupy’s message while thousands more still support the protest.
Both sides expressed a mutual respect the other’s position, but little was accomplished as far as establishing a solution.
“You can evict a tent, but you can’t evict an idea,” said Coun. Fred Pattje.
Many city councillors said they personally agree with Occupy Nanaimo’s position, but council fell short of providing an official endorsement for the campaign.