TORONTO – Occupy Toronto protesters cannot use the city’s landmark cathedral to evade eviction if the courts rule they have to leave the park they took over more than a month ago, the Anglican dean of Toronto said Thursday.
Rev. Douglas Stoute said the church owns some of the land adjacent to the majestic St. James Cathedral, but the city owns the rest and runs park as a “seamless garment.”
“We have no authority to allow them to stay here or not,” Stoute said of the protesters.
His comments came as five protesters prepared to appear before Ontario Superior Court Justice David Brown on Friday to argue the city’s eviction order is unconstitutional.
A ruling is expected Monday.
“Justice Brown’s decision will apply to the entire park,” said Stoute, who urged protesters to obey the court.
“Rhetoric that indicates that some will not follow the decision (if negative) is inviting chaos and I would suspect perhaps even violence.”
The city’s eviction notice issued this week argues the demonstrators have run afoul of bylaws and are trespassers.
Susan Ursel, the prominent human rights lawyer representing the protesters, said the rights of other park users have to be weighed against the rights of the protesters to assemble and express themselves.
“Given the fundamental nature of the rights they are exercising, the balance ought to weigh fairly heavily in their favour and they ought to be able to stay in the park,” Ursel said in an interview.
The argument has taken on new urgency given that numerous cities across North America have either already evicted, or moved to evict, their Occupy sites.
In some cases – mostly in the U.S. – police have used force to clear parks and other areas, including Zuccotti park, the Manhattan plaza that was home to Occupy Wall Street and spawned the global movement.
“Because there’s a reaction like that, that’s the very moment that we should pause and look at what exactly is it that we’re trying to curtail here,” Ursel said.
“We say what is being curtailed is something that’s fundamental to a democratic society.”
In an affidavit filed with the court, 24-year-old student Bryan Batty says the Occupy movement exists due to a global demand for “systemic and lasting change” in terms of political representation and respect from corporate elites.
“The Canadian government has been manipulated by corporate interest and protected by the veil of the corporate media agenda,” Batty states.
“The Occupy movement is demonstrative of a new community structure that uses dialogue and inclusive principles to empower individuals.”
Other affidavits highlight the important symbolism of the park occupation.
Lana Goldberg, a 30-year-old York University student, said in her statement she had no plans to remain in the park indefinitely.
However, it was essential to her freedoms that she be able to decide when to leave, she said.
Ursel said was too early to discuss whether she would attempt to appeal should Brown rule against the Occupation.
At the park, which has grown to a functioning mini-village from its ragged beginnings a month ago, protesters mulled the possibility of eviction.
“It’s going to put the movement in a really tough place,” said Mika Gang, 23, a student.
“(But) I don’t think the movement is going to die with our inability to stay in the park. We’re going to have to be creative.”
While some church neighbours are unhappy with the occupation, members of the general public have been “overwhelmingly” supportive of the Occupy Toronto message, Stoute said.
“This is not about a tidy park: It’s about social and economic dysfunction and injustice.”