Police clear out Occupy Toronto protesters as a few remain defiant

The Globe and Mail

Police walk through St. James park after they moved in to evict protesters as a woman yells from her tent during the "Occupy Toronto" movement in Toronto, November 23, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/Mark Blinch/REUTERS)

Police gradually cleared out Occupy Toronto protesters Wednesday afternoon, surrounding small groups who were trying to maintain their hold of the few structures left at St. James Park.

By 4 p.m., police had removed the people who refused to leave the library yurt structure, taking them to a court services van. After their apprehension, the total number of arrests for the day stood at 11.

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Protesters followed the police-surrounded van as it left the park and chanted "shame." Following the earlier arrests, protesters were released quickly and nearby.

Meanwhile, city staff took apart the barricade that had surrounded the library yurt. Shortly before, the wood and other materials surrounding a gazebo were taken down and police stopped surrounding that structure. A small group of protesters remained singing and dancing there.

The police intervention was firm but cautious, apparently mindful of the controversy over its tactics during the G20 summit.

After arriving before dawn to get city workers to remove the tents, mattresses and other artifacts of the weeks-long occupation, beat patrollers and bicycle officers encircled each spot where protesters wouldn't leave.

Members of the Public Service Unit, what the Toronto police calls its "crowd-control" squad then intervened inside.

While they donned padded gloves and carried nightsticks on their belts, there were no shields or helmets.

Scores of police and bylaw officers went tent-to-tent, warning anyone inside to take their belongings.

At mid-morning, the mood turned ugly after police took a female protester into custody as the crowd shouted "Let her go!" An officer told protesters the woman was arrested for trespassing.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he's proud of how police and city staff have handled the eviction of the protesters.

Mr. Ford says the day-long sweep has been “orderly and largely peaceful.”

In a news conference this afternoon, the mayor thanked protesters for their co-operation with the cleanup.

But he warned the city will move quickly to evict any new encampments if the group resettles.

Mr. Ford says the Occupy protest is over and he'd like to keep it that way.

Earlier, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he is hopeful that protesters will clear the area by the end of Wednesday, noting that there is no ban on people - just structures - in the park during the day.

Mr. Holyday said the city hopes to clear the park without using force, but noted there are some "hard core" protesters who are unlikely to follow the city's request to leave.

"Some people there have been intent on provoking violence from the onset," he said.

In that case, he said it will be up to police to decide on the appropriate action.

Earlier on Wednesday, Toronto police Inspector Gary Meissner told protesters at the yurt "as long as we see some movement in next hour," that there would be no intervention.

"I don't see much movement right now," he says, gesturing at cluster of tents.

Television reports showed police walking around the park with flashlights, peering into tents. Shortly after, city bylaw officers were seen tagging and photographing tents.

"It's disappointing, but we knew it'd arrive ... We'll stand our ground," said protester Stefonknee Wolscht. He said some were planning to go on hunger strike after their arrest.

"Excuse me! Who do you serve!" another man was heard yelling as officers taped a numbered sheet on his tent. "Mike! Keep your calm," others urged him.

Meanwhile, protesters gathered to dismantle an OPSEU-donated yurt at the site.

"You know what the Nazis said, I'm just following orders. Think about that, sergeant," one angry protester yelled as he carried his tent away.

Traffic on streets around the downtown park has been blocked and several police cruisers, vans and a command vehicle were parked nearby.

The protesters had spent the night up and waiting, amid the sound of drumming.

With reports from Marcus Gee, Elizabeth Church, Carys Mills and The Canadian Press





The numbers



39 - How many days the Occupy Toronto protest went on after thousands marched to St. James Park from the centre of the financial district on Oct. 15.



11 - People who were apprehended by police on Wednesday and charged under the Trespass to Property Act before police cleared all structures and tents as of about 5 p.m. They were released shortly after.



3 - Large, circular tents called yurts were donated by unions and housed what protesters deemed important aspects of the camp: medical supplies, media and the library.



100 - City staff who used 30 vehicles to remove tents, structures and belongings from the park and move them to an eastend storage yard after numbering them so that owners can claim their belongings.



-3.6C - About how cold it got in the late hours of Tuesday, the coldest night of the occupation. While it rained, a dozen or so protesters hunkered down at the camp in their tents and yurts for the last night.



5 - The people (Bryan Batty, Mari Reeve-Newson, Lana Goldberg, Anna Crooke and Dave Vasey) who filed an injunction application against the city’s eviction orders, which required occupiers to take down structures and leave during the overnight hours. However, a judge ruled that the orders were sound.



3 - Police buses that arrived at the park around 6:30 a.m., along with numerous other vehicles, bringing an undisclosed number of officers to accompany city staff who would take down all the structures at the park by the end of Wednesday. Carys Mills

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