Occupy Victoria protesters have praised Mayor Dean Fortin for not calling on police to clamp down on their movement which has resulted in a small tent city set up at City Hall in Centennial Square – and for not having opposed a demonstration and march through downtown Victoria on Saturday by more than 1,000 people.
And they applaud Victoria police for not harassing them.
They said the mayor could easily have used his power to order police to disrupt two Occupy Victoria protests – the downtown protest by the recently founded People’s Assembly of Victoria and a similar demonstration by another group called We Are Change Victoria, on the Legislative grounds earlier the same day and attended by about 300 people.
“The mayor being on side is huge,” said Anushka Nagji, 25, one of the People’s Assembly organizers and a University of Victoria law student who graduates in April. “He has a lot of power and was in a position to allow or not allow it to happen.”
She said she is “heartened” at the friendly police attitude towards the Occupy Victoria protesters.
Fellow organizer Rob Rao, 34, said Fortin could have called in police to evict the campers because of a city bylaw that says tents and other temporary structures put up public parks can only stay in place between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and must then be dismantled.
He said although nobody is “naïve” about the role police play in maintaining public order, they are “nice guys” when dealing with Occupy Victoria participants.
Rao said the overwhelming majority of people involved in Saturday’s demonstration were individuals who said they would not normally get involved in public protest but are increasingly upset at corporate and bank control of the economy that is crushing jobs, destroying social programs, and telling governments what to do.
Josh Steffler, spokesman for the We Are Change Victoria which is not tied to the People’s Assembly on philosophical grounds, said Fortin was correct in allowing Occupy Victoria to proceed without interference.
“It would have been easy for him to say ‘No. They don’t have a permit (for Saturday’s protest and the tent city)” and tell the police ‘please remove them’.”
Greg Hill, 26, another We Are Change spokesperson agreed. “He (Fortin) definitely could have shut it down.”
Steffler said his group is considering closer ties with the People’s Assembly even though they are too anti-capitalist for his group’s liking.
He said free enterprise and capitalism are the foundation of modern democracy but ways must be found of destroying the power and influence of large corporations that control Wall Street and dictate how the economy and governments are run.
He claims the People’s Assembly appears to be overly influenced by individuals who oppose any sort of capitalism, but admits this is not necessarily etched in stone.
The People’s Assembly set up more than a dozen tents across the square on Saturday night and have served notice they might remain for several weeks if not months or when the movement accomplishes its goals or exhausts itself. Occupy Victoria is part of a growing global protest against big banks, corporations and greed that is hitting cities across Europe and North America – including 15 Canadian cities.
Nagji and Rao said they are thankful Fortin has supported their movement since its beginning early in October when a couple of dozen organizers regularly got together at Centennial Square and began planning Occupy Victoria – often with police within ear shot but not interfering.
Rao said free breakfast and supper donated by Occupy Victoria supporters are provided to the Centennial Square campers, and a first aid tent has been set up to deal with medical problems that might occur.
He said the People’s Assembly is planning to set up a credit union account to accept cash donations to help defray any costs encountered.
Although no federal or provincial government MLAs participated in either Occupy Victoria protest Saturday, former provincial NDP leader Carole James, MLA Maureen Karagianus (NDP Esquimalt-Royal Roads) and MP Ron Garrison (NDP Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) were at the three-hour demonstration on the Legislative grounds while Victoria NDP MP Denise Savoie participated in the Centennial Square protest.
Provincial NDP leader Adrian Dix earlier threw his support behind Occupy Victoria, he did not participate.