Saturday, November 12, 2011

Take Down: Occupy Nova Scotia

I've not written on my blog in a while. I kept meaning to get back to it on a regular basis but something else would always come up. Then Mayor Peter Kelly and the gang at City Hall decided to evict the Occupy Nova Scotia protesters from Halifax's Victoria Park. My blog could wait no longer.

Here's the thing. I've had mixed feelings about the Occupy Nova Scotia protest. When I listened to interviews by protesters or chatted with some myself, it was less clear to me than what I heard on CNN from Occupy Wall Street in terms of what the protesters wanted changed. I was also bothered that many of the people who were speaking at rallies often seemed to be the usual suspects who turned up at any protest. But I was also sympathetic to the concern that many of the world's financial systems have not been working all that well. Having spent considerable time in many west African countries, I've seen some of the unintended consequences of actions in North America that make me see the Occupy movement from a more global view.

When it came to Remembrance Day, I felt the protesters should move from the grounds of the province's biggest memorial ceremony, but move on their own accord. And they did. The Occupy movement (if you can call it a movement) around the world holds meetings each night to figure out the consensus. The consensus in Halifax was veteran's come first.They were respectful of the day, just as many - including the Mayor - had asked.

How is it then, that the same Mayor who asked the protesters to respect Remembrance Day chose that same day to evict Occupy Nova Scotia from Victoria Park? How is that any less disrespectful? Armed police officers taking down a protest in a driving rain storm on Remembrance Day is hardly something to be proud of, and hardly an appropriate way to recognize the sacrifices of veterans.

Camping in a municipal park (with the exception of ones including campgrounds) is a violation of municipal law. But it was a violation from day one. Nothing changed. Kelly and HRM decided to negotiate with protesters. They offered to let them stay on the Halifax Commons (also a city park) which seemed to be an acceptance that the parks by-law would not be enforced, at least for the foreseeable future.

I expected better. Indeed, just the night before I'd been asked by someone whether I thought the protesters would be forced out. I said no, that wouldn't happen in Halifax unless there was an incident. They were peaceful, relatively quiet, and generally harmless. They might not get free electricity anymore, but they wouldn't get pushed out. I was wrong. And I was surprised.

I was surprised to see the Mayor ordering police to the streets instead of the Mayor showing up to have a conversation. Maybe I shouldn't have been. It turns out now that council held an in-camera meeting to discuss the matter just days before. A secret meeting that may not even have been entirely above board given its unclear how enforcement of a by-law qualifies as a legal subject for an in-camera discussion in any Nova Scotia municipality.

You don't have to like the Occupy Nova Scotia movement. But you should be ashamed that a decision was made in secret, and executed on the one day of the year we thank thousands of brave Canadians who put their lives on the line to ensure we have the freedom to say and do things in a peaceful way. Even things some people might not like.

And lest we forget, Kelly chose a public negotiation, with cameras in tow, to ask protesters to leave Grand Parade for Remembrance Day, but did not do the same to ask them to leave. He chose a secret crack down instead. That isn't the way I think peaceful protests should be handled.