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12th & Cambie

with Mike Howell

Occupied, for now

So you’ve probably heard—Mayor Gregor Robertson and senior city staff are staying the course on the “Occupy Vancouver” protest outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Which means they’re not sending in Police Chief Jim Chu and his officers. So far, as city councillors heard at Tuesday’s meeting at city hall, the protest has remained peaceful and city manager Penny Ballem said there’s no appetite to get a court injunction to move the campers along. But if ever there was a weekend the protest could go off the rails, it’s this Saturday. The Vancouver Police Department issued a media advisory before the council meeting to reveal “the group has announced plans to march around the downtown core and potentially occupy several banks.” A couple of weeks ago, protesters occupied the TD Bank across from the art gallery and danced on counters, unplugged computers and staged a sit-in. No damage was reported and no arrests were made. But as Twitter follower and small business owner Paul Tolnai tweeted during the city hall meeting, after hearing crime wasn’t an issue for police: “Crime not an issue? Ask the staff at the TD Bank who needed trauma counselling after their dealings with the occupiers.” Police haven’t said how many officers will work Saturday or how much it will cost. These are ques-

The city’s top brass—Mayor Gregor Robertson (top), VPD Chief Jim Chu (middle) and city manager Penny Ballem—are staying the photos Dan Toulgoet course on the Occupy Vancouver protest outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. tions neither the mayor nor his 10 councillors posed to Chu or Ballem at Tuesday’s meeting. As well, the politicians—the majority of whom are seeking reelection Nov. 19—never asked the chief if the costs associated with the protest would put the VPD in the red for the first time in seven years. The city sets the VPD’s budget. Chu warned the Vancouver Police Board Oct. 19 the protest was taxing the VPD’s budget and there was a danger of running a deficit this year; the VPD does not have a contingency fund, although it wants one.

Ballem said the VPD overtime costs were $394,00. But that figure was as of Oct. 20 and doesn’t include the police deployment for last weekend’s events, including the occupation of Holy Rosary Cathedral and marches through the streets. Costs as of Oct. 31 for engineering came in at $127,124 and another $15,274 was spent by the city’s emergency operations centre on overtime costs and the installation of surveillance cameras; for a council sympathetic to civil libertarians, there was surprisingly no talk or concern raised at the meeting about the cameras. The fire department’s costs to-

talled $7,000, as of Oct. 31, and includes ensuring “fire lanes” are not obstructed, preventing propane on the site and not allowing candles in tents. Ballem also provided a better sense of how many people are camping outside the gallery, which, by the way, is providing electricity for the encampment. Ballem said 50 to 60 people are sleeping overnight and up to 150 people show up during the day. About 100 “pup tents” are set up on the grounds, with portable toilets available on site. Environmental health officers make daily visits to inspect the makeshift kitchen,

check for any sanitation issues. City bylaw officers are dealing with reports of rats. How long will the campers stay? Organizers of the annual Santa Claus Parade are guessing it will go at least to Dec. 4, the day of the parade. And that’s why organizers announced Wednesday the parade route will be changed to avoid the protest. Usually, the mayor is present at the parade. Who will it be? And will the handling of the protest affect election results? Stay tuned, Vancouver. Twitter: @Howellings

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Vancouver Courier November 4 2011  

Vancouver Courier November 4 2011