Occupy Vancouver cumbersome for Robertson

After yesterday’s rejection of Vancouver Coun. Suzanne Anton’s motion to expedite the removal of Occupy protesters from the Vancouver Art Gallery’s front plaza, the situation Mayor Gregor Robertson faces is still tricky.

In fact, Occupy Vancouver, from a political standpoint, is a hot potato varnished with superglue. Inaction would mean allowing the cost of policing – already in the hundreds of thousands – to climb, at the expense of Vancouver taxpayers. On the other hand, issuing an ultimatum or eviction notice, without a court order, may violate the protesters’ Charter rights to free assembly and civil disobedience, and set a dubious precedent.

Robertson has a few options before him to address the Occupy question. But none of them is necessarily “safe.”

Option 1) The game of attrition: Sit back and let the combination of increasingly chilly weather and rain coax the protesters back home. (Of course, Canadian residents east of B.C.’s Coast Mountains would probably scoff at our West Coast notion of “chilly.”) However, there are still roughly 100 tents in front of the VAG, and while wintry conditions may deter some, the heartier members of Occupy are liable to tarp up and stay, as long as they feel the tents are an integral component of their message.

Option 2) The court injunction: Obtain a judge’s order to end the “Occupation,” and force the tenters to leave. Yesterday, Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem concluded that the city cannot command anyone to leave the VAG site without undertaking this step first. Police Chief Jim Chu agreed he would prefer that the city obtain an injunction before taking further eviction action. However, the court probably wouldn’t grant such an order unless the city can demonstrate the Occupy protesters are linked to threats to health, public safety, property, or security. The general view seems to be that the protesters have been peaceful and cooperative…not exactly grounds for the sort of complaint a judge would take seriously.

Option 3) The Heave-Ho: Issue an ultimatum, and if the Occupiers don’t move, send the cops in to boot the tenters out. This is more in line with Coun. Anton’s proposed motion, a concept that’s definitive but uncompromising. Unfortunately, in recent history – particularly in Oakland – this tactic has proven ineffective; while Occupiers departed temporarily following a clash with police, they have returned to the city’s Frank Ogawa Plaza in large numbers, and remain both physically and ideologically entrenched. Whether the same would happen in Vancouver or not is unclear, but with Anton’s motion defeated, the point is moot – for now. No ultimatum, and no indication as to how much longer Vancouver’s Occupiers will stick around.

With an election coming Nov. 19, Mayor Robertson is torn between competing obligations: to the Occupiers and their supporters, many of whom would likely choose his Vision party over Anton’s NPA; and to downtown businesses, and a significant body of constituents Anton represents, who feel enough is enough. While polls indicate that Robertson holds a big lead over Anton in the public opinion race (over 60 per cent for him to just over 30 per cent for her), the Occupy issue may prove divisive.

Coun. Anton has chosen her side. Mayor Robertson, for the time being, has opted to wait and see. Time will tell which position suits the majority of Vancouverites.