Occupy Nova Scotia: A bylaw infraction?

packing under a watchful eye

Standing in the rain, pivoting as people rushed about under the watchful eye of police, the air filled with dismay. There is a collective outrage against our mayor this weekend, at least in the F.G. household as he pitted police, council and himself against peaceful protestors, all in a secret turn of events from which Peter Kelly is once again backpedalling (for a detailed account and fun audio of the inestimable Tim Bousquet with Mr. Kelly go here).

protecting the tents

November 11 started out fairly quiet for our family. Breakfast together and gentle conversations with Miss N about war and why we remember the fallen soldiers. For a six year old she is a very well informed little girl. When the news popped up on Twitter that Mayor Peter Kelly had issued an eviction notice on the Occupy Nova Scotia peaceful collective at Victoria Park, Mr and I quickly explained to her (and a couple of willing adults ready to hang with the kids) that we needed to leave. Now.

It seems unbelievable that Kelly, who declared it disrespectful of Occupy N.S. to remain at Grand Parade for Dignity Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies, would think it appropriate to forcibly evict under a heavy police presence only moments after the ceremonies. In short, it’s disrespectful of protestors to be present in the company of veterans but once out of sight, it is entirely legitimate to shut down a peaceful protest.

foul ball

Kelly is neatly diminishing the intent of the Occupy protest as it has manifested itself in Nova Scotia. He is, in effect, declaring that the protestors are no more than “campers defying a bylaw”. Yes, they are defying a bylaw. It’s a protest, sometimes it happens that in disrupting the status quo one breaks a bylaw.

The occupiers are not campers. The population of the movement is made up of street kids, the city’s homeless (oh, there are many), and people who are fed up with society as it stands. Before we get caught up in the “get a job” paradigm, know that significant numbers of the occupiers are gainfully employed. They are drawing attention to the disenfranchised in our society and saying enough is enough.

Thus far, Peter Kelly’s response has been to secretly shut them down and deny that it was  intentional, that as an Occupier laid a wreath down on the cenotaph at Grand Parade with a veteran, the police were on their way to Victoria Park to post the eviction notice.

His repeated denials and declaration of camping bylaws are tantamount to saying the protest is not actually a protest, it is people camping.

Let me ask you, when you go camping, do you establish a food tent to feed those who cannot do so for themselves? Do you establish a medical tent, complete with addiction services? No? Huh. Interesting, when I was there, helping to quickly empty a tent I picked up a big container labelled “med tent”. You don’t see one of those at your long weekend, beer-swilling camps.

The protestors are not petulant children. They are peaceful, non-violent individuals intent on drawing attention to the faults in our society and caring for one another in their own way. And now, they’re angry.

As I stood in the rain on Friday, my camera poised and hastily wrapped in the red bag our Chronicle Herald comes in, a woman before me wailed, “YOU CANNOT TAKE MY HOME!”. Her home.  We, in our warm houses can think it ridiculous this woman considered a tent a home, but she did. She was scared, wet and her partner had just been arrested for trying to protect their home. Intertwined with the Occupy movement have been the city’s homeless.

solidarity rally

The solidarity rally, held on Saturday was flanked by police. Occupiers were angry and as one woman pointed across Grand Parade at a particular police officer to say, “HIM! He left bruises on my neck!” and lead a chant of “What’s your name?”, my daughter turned to her father with wide eyes.

“Daddy, I thought the police are supposed to protect us and Mother Earth?”

A police officer heard her words and while he was bemused, I hope it was a gentle reminder from a wise 6 year old. The police are there to protect us and our elected officials are to uphold the law, not repeatedly defy the charter of the very city they are serving. The occupiers showed good faith when they made their move to Victoria Park in honour of Remembrance Day. It was Mr. Kelly who showed a denial of that faith when he had them unceremoniously evicted, an act which may not have even been legal. We can quibble over whether or not he said the protestors could come back to Grand Parade, it is clear that Occupiers (and many supporters) believed the square would be open to them once Remembrance Day ceremonies were finished.

The animosity Peter Kelly has created with his heavy-handed approach to Occupy N.S. has now created a situation where anger has become the focus. This is the last thing the movement needs. I do not know what the solution is, I’m not sure anyone does since so many of the issues Occupy is bringing attention to are systemic and not easily fixed. Something does need to change.

Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ‘cuz the power of the people don’t go. Say what? Don’t stop.

Additional reading:

Tim Bousquet: Occupy Nova Scotia – Who OKed the Cowardly and Shameful Act?

The Globe and Mail, Alison Auld, Halifax Occupy protesters demand mayor resign.

The Chronicle Herald, Protest targets mayor.

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