UPDATE: O'Keefe says Occupy tents will be removed early Wednesday

The Canadian Press and The Telegram
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Deadline to vacate property today; movement will continue

The mayor of St. John’s, N.L., says tents belonging to some of the most persistent Occupy protesters in North America will be removed if demonstrators won’t leave a downtown park before Wednesday.

Dennis O’Keefe has asked Occupy protesters in Harbourside Park to leave by midnight.

Otherwise, he says city parks staff will arrive early Wednesday morning to pack up the camp and return items wherever occupiers want them to go.

Demonstrators set up tents in the seaside park last October as the Occupy movement against corporate greed swept the continent.

While other Occupy camps were dismantled by officials in Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax and other cities, St. John’s allowed a few diehard protesters to stay all winter.

O’Keefe says he has offered city hall space for Occupy meetings, but it’s time to get the park ready for summer events.

•••

Occupy NL found its own way to welcome the Crystal Serenity cruise ship as it docked in St. John’s Sunday, the first such ship to arrive this year in the capital city.

A large banner with the word occupy displayed in all-caps greeted the ship from the hiking trail leading to Signal Hill. According to Occupy NL member Jon Parsons, the event was held to highlight the cruise ship’s status as a symbol of inequality — tickets for the 25-day cruise from New York to Rome range from $7,810 to $41,000 for a penthouse suite.

The arrival of the first cruise ship to St. John’s in 2012 also coincides with the City of St. John’s eviction notice for Occupy NL, a group that has camped in a corner of Harbourside Park since last October. Early last month, the city told the group to vacate the park by May 15.

“A lot of us are certainly of the conviction that the timing of this is linked to our tourism industry, the appearance of the city and the image that’s being sold of the province,” said Parsons.

As for the community support Occupy NL has received over the last seven months, Parsons said he has been blown away by how widely the group’s message promoting social and economic equality has spread.

“I think that the support has been amazing from the community. We’re not (the) small number of people that we may seem to be. There’s a lot of supporters out there. People providing material support, people just thinking and talking about some of the issues that we’re trying to raise. It’s all a victory.”

Occupy NL is the last remaining outpost of the global occupy movement in Canada to exist in a public space. Most other protest sites across the country were cleared last fall. A general assembly event to mark the eviction will be held Tuesday evening at the park starting at 7 p.m.

Parsons said while the city has previously voiced its support of the occupy movement’s aims and goals, it seems prepared to remove the group from Harbourside Park as the lucrative summer season approaches. Harbourside Park itself plays host to music and theatre events during the summer months.

“It’s certainly been vital to the movement,” Parsons said of the Harbourside Park camp. “It gives us a space to meet and talk and think about new ideas. But it has also been a very important symbol of the movement. It is a form of protest in itself. We forget sometimes that it is illegal to camp in the park and to be set up there as we are. It’s a form of civil disobedience. It’s not just people hanging out there — there’s a purpose to it.”

That might have been the case, said St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, but it’s time for the camp to move out of the park.

O’Keefe said he delivered the message personally in a meeting with Occupy NL members last Thursday.

“We had a very positive meeting, a very good meeting,” said O’Keefe.

“I indicated to them that we appreciated what they had done to profile the cause of social justice. And that the many things they feel need to be remedied in our society were indeed things that need to be remedied. Many of them are issues that will take a long long time — but if we don’t start somewhere it will never happen,” he said.

But the mayor added that while he was “proud” of the city for letting Occupy NL stay in the park and that city council “agreed in principal with many of the things they stood for,” it was time for them to move on.

“I simply said we would like them to respectfully return the park to us just as we respected their right to get the word out about their principals and their programs,” he said.

If the tents do come down on Tuesday, Parsons said the movement will continue to exist through its community events, online presence, and general assemblies, which have been held at the park, the Anglican Cathedral on Church Hill, and Memorial University.

“They can’t take the space away,” said Parsons. “The space is always there ... there’s no losing of the space.”

Whether another space will be set up to serve as the base of the movement, Parsons said that’s an issue that’s yet to be settled.

“No consensus has been reached on what the appropriate thing to do is, and that’s the lovely and frustrating thing about horizontal decision making,” said Parsons, who noted Occupy NL takes a pacifist and non-violent approach when it comes to protesting.

“Nothing outrageous will happen (on Tuesday),” he said.

O’Keefe said he was confident Occupy NL would continue to show the good judgment the members have displayed over the past year — and pack up. He even offered the city’s help moving stuff if need be.

“If it doesn’t? Well we’ll have to deal with that when it comes,” he said.

“We’re prepared to deal with it. And we’ll deal with it sensibly and sanely, but it will have to be dealt with. It’s time. They had the park for seven or eight months — they used that time properly and respectfully ... and now it’s time for them to turn it back to us.”

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

cmaclean@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Anglican Cathedral, Church Hill

Geographic location: Harbourside Park, Signal Hill, New York Rome Canada

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • SF
    May 17, 2012 - 09:45

    You hate poor people? So do I! I wish I could make them rich, then you'd both be happy.

  • Maria Maria
    May 17, 2012 - 09:09

    Stop the looting, stop the shooting Pick pocking on the corner See as the rich is getting richer The poor is getting poorer Se mira Maria on the corner Thinking of ways to make it better In my mailbox there's an eviction letter Somebody just said see you later

  • Oh
    May 17, 2012 - 08:39

    Nobody listens, that's one of the things people like those involved in the Occupy movement would like to change.

  • seanoairborne
    May 15, 2012 - 14:57

    Your letters section is really "BORING"why don't you let people go back and forth with each other on here.More interaction?That would make for a livelier letters section.Have a Ref on here at all times of the day as a monitor (hopefully an unbiased one.Not left or right ,but down the middle).That's what most of the papers in the US and Canada are doing now?Just a suggestion to make things more appealing to your readers?

  • Patrick Guilfoyle
    May 15, 2012 - 11:04

    @Don: You try and pay off student loans and survive on minimum wage in Sin John's.

    • seanoairborne
      May 15, 2012 - 14:38

      Student loans are not a right!Just because you decided to go to college and rack up debt doesn't mean that someone else is responsible for your mistakes!.As far as paying off your debt,maybe if you hadn't graduated with a degree in basket weaving or psychology or sociology or one of the many pseudo scientific disciplines that are offered in the hallowed halls of academia today,and received a "real" degree,you'd have a good paying job now?

    • Edmund
      May 15, 2012 - 15:34

      Get off your arse and get 2 jobs. I had 3 jobs when I finished MUN to pay off my loans and make ends meet and for over 5 years. Lots of long days and sacrifices but I did it. Where there is a will there is a way. Try it some time and quit complaining. Nobody wants to listen to your self serving belly aching any more. Move along so the rest of us that want to do something with our lives, instead of whining like you lot, can set a proper example of a democratic society.

  • Robin
    May 15, 2012 - 10:22

    If you'd like to see the images from occupy NL's Operation Cruise Ship Welcome, check out http://www.occupynl.ca/2012/05/operation-cruise-ship-welcome.html

    • Chris Chafe
      May 15, 2012 - 17:36

      You mean to tell me you do not want people who for the most part have worked damn hard during their lives, not to be able to enjoy the savings when they are older and retire. You guys are pathetic!

  • Observer
    May 15, 2012 - 10:21

    Oh, Edmund, well said, well said. These hooligans/good-for-nothings are playing Dennis O'Keefe like a fiddle. They are cunning and manipulative and you could see this coming from a mile away. They're the same, entitled kind of troublemakers who are turning the Montreal area into a war zone. Get rid of them before they bring their form of anarchy to St. John's. I can't believe they're still there!!!

  • Thank You, Don't Come again
    May 15, 2012 - 10:10

    No one has the right to monopolize a public space. The saying is: "Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints." Not: "Take over. Leave never." What about the rest of us 99% who want to use the park or not pass by and see a shanty town?

  • Edmund
    May 15, 2012 - 09:14

    Well, well, well, I was right all along in my previous comments about our gutless mayor when I said he would evict this bunch of hooligans when his cruise ships started to arrive. And what do they do but disgrace our national historic site at Signal Hill and put out their big sign for the ship's passengers to see. O'Keefe wake up and smell the roses. What did you expect them to do and get ready to evict them from their next site somewhere in the city. See what you started Dennis by your inaction. Start acting like a mayor and make some business decisions instead of a school teacher trying to pacify the kids. These passengers make a big contribution to our city not like the vagabons who have slummed downtown for most of the year camping and living off hand outs when all of them are healthy enough to go out and get a job but too lazy to do so. Get out of our city. We do not need or want your kind of people disrupting a community that so many hard working people have sacrificed so much to build. I suggest the great plains of Siberia would be a good choice for you to set up your next camp. OH, don't forget to take some sort of man made weapon, manufactured by the free enterprise system that you protest against so you will be able to kill something to eat, if you are not tooo lazy to do that too. Just go away and act like the fools you are somewhere else. You are a bunch of jokers and nobody cares about your cause. No need to write a long winded response like you always do trying to justify your actions. Nobody cares and the fact that you are the last place with a tent up in the country, due to our mayor's inability to govern, says it all. Like the song "Hit the road Jack and don't you come back no more no more".

    • seanoairborne
      May 15, 2012 - 14:45

      KUDOS!!

  • bunch of clowns
    May 15, 2012 - 09:12

    The rules may say "no achohol" but if it said "no weed" I bet you they'd have 0 members left hahah. A protest is one thing, but these occupy folks are nothing but an eyesore. Dont they realize nobody listens and the mayor is simply being nice and not saying what he really thinks.

  • Ron Tizzard
    May 15, 2012 - 09:08

    I agree with Don (above), and cuncil's decision. The city was a 'broad-minded' host, and beyond. Time for this group to show some respect, and consideration for their hosts...through how many months, exactly? Enough indeed. To the group I would say...Return to your lives people, whatever form it was previous to your Occupation Deliberations. Get back to school, back to work...whatever...and begin your contribution back to your own communities. Go back to school...work...families...wherever your sensibilites lead you to embrace 'real-life' and contribute in a responsible, respectful manner i.e. politically. Finish school...contribute via avenues available...perhaps politically. Whatever....camping out...has figuratively 'burned out'. You seem to have a lot to say...pick your stages wisely; seemingly just loafing around (at this point) it would seem is just doing your.....what was that? See what I mean! This is one of your supporters signing off!

  • Don
    May 15, 2012 - 07:39

    Time for this bunch to go get a job. They can flip hamburgers at MacDonald's for $10.00 an hour. That's $400.00 a week.

    • Pauper
      May 17, 2012 - 08:55

      I am a full-time student and I fully support the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society fairer. It is not about boozing it up and living in a tent. My EDUCATED parents work hard every day just to get by. They have no money to support my education because of the hardships we have faced together over the years. I am lucky to live in a province that will pay for my education, but I am judged harshly by people for being on welfare.