TORONTO – Protesters bowed to the inevitable Wednesday as authorities armed with court approval moved into a downtown park just before daybreak to dismantle the Occupy Toronto camp in a mostly uneventful clearing operation.
The arrival of scores of police and bylaw officers appeared to come as a relief to the shrinking number of activists, who had waited nearly two nights for authorities to enforce a city notice to take the camp down.
“Once all structures have been removed and the park has been rendered safe, St. James Park will be re-opened,” police said through a loud hailer.
“The public will be free to continue to exercise your right to free speech.”
While some protesters jeered, drummed or chanted, bylaw officers escorted by police went tent-to-tent methodically, warning anyone inside to take their belongings.
They numbered and photographed each structure before sanitation workers then moved in and began taking down tents and clearing out other debris.
“It’s really calm,” said protester Katie Berger, who stood by a park gazebo as police walked by.
“Everyone has planned for this.”
Later in the morning, one woman, who sat in front of a city truck and refused to move, was arrested for trespassing.
She went limp and was carried away.
“We anticipate she will be released quite quickly,” said Staff-Insp. Neil Corrigan.
Two others who refused to leave a structure were arrested a few hours later to crowd chants of “shame! shame!”
Around lunchtime, a few hundred Ontario Federation of Labour members left their convention at a downtown hotel and marched to the park in a show of support for the protesters.
Occupy Toronto protesters took over the downtown park Oct. 15 as part of the global movement decrying the growing gap between rich and poor.
From a handful of tents, the park soon grew into a functioning mini-village that drew the wrath of some area residents and businesses who felt they could no longer use the park in peace.
On Monday, an Ontario Superior Court judge upheld a city eviction order, saying the protesters were trespassing and allowing them to stay would amount to supporting anarchy.
City bylaws forbid tents and other structures in parks, and people are not allowed to be in them between midnight and 5 a.m.
In a massive show of force Wednesday, police surrounded St. James Park in the frosty pre-dawn darkness to secure the area.
“No arrests are needed,” one man told a group of officers.
“You’re not going to mess with the people who are going to be running the country for the next 50 years.”
Overall, the interaction between police and protesters was cordial, even courteous at times.
One protester offered officers on the perimeter tulips.
In a statement, Mayor Rob Ford said the goal was to make the park safe for everyone to enjoy.
“The city has worked to balance people’s right to protest with public safety,” Ford said.
“It’s time this came to a peaceful end.”
A handful of protesters tried to set up tents on park grounds north of the Ontario legislature. Police quickly intervened and the tents came down.
Despite the end of the St. James camp, Occupy protesters said the movement was far from dead.
“If they won’t let us sleep here … we’ll go out to the public and come back with more people,” said Adam Kuzmin.
“Maybe that will be more effective because we’ll be forced to be out of the park and spread the message that way.”
Police arrived at the park on three large buses and numerous other vehicles. Some officers carried riot equipment, but did not don helmets or masks.
In Ottawa, at least eight people were arrested early Wednesday when police entered Confederation Park to ask Occupy protesters to leave.
A spokesman for the Occupy Ottawa legal support committee said all but one person had been released with a $65 trespass ticket.
In Vancouver, police moved in early Wednesday to dismantle a second Occupy site that sprang up after the initial site at the art gallery was deemed illegal and ordered removed.
At the Occupy Montreal camp, tents sagged under the weight of snow as the city faced its first major storm of the season.
Earlier this week, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay asked the protesters to pack up and leave the site in the heart of Montreal’s financial district.
Organizers have indicated they have no plans to do that and are planning a big demonstration on Saturday.