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Managing Occupy protest cost city $1-million, city says

Hapa restuarant on Robson Street in Vancouver May 17, 2003. The new Robson Street hot spot puts a slightly upscale, but still very affordable, spin on izakaya (Japanese tapas, done pub-style). Here owner Justin Ault sears some mackeral. Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

Lyle Stafford/JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's too late for mayoralty contender Suzanne Anton, but the cost of managing the Occupy Vancouver protest was much closer to her estimate than the numbers provided before the recent municipal election by the chair of Vancouver's finance committee, Vision councillor Raymond Louie.

The cost to the city, as of Dec 15, was $981,103, city manager Penny Ballem and deputy manager Sadhu Johnston stated in a report to city council released Monday.

A few days before the municipal election on Nov. 19, Mr. Louie said the city had spent $560,398 as of Oct. 31 on managing the protest.

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He did not expect the costs to rise significantly beyond what had been reported, Mr. Louie said, adding that the cost over the following days would be about $1,000 a day.

Ms. Anton, who lost in her bid to unseat Mayor Gregor Robertson, disputed the $1,000 estimate during the campaign and suggested costs were closer to $1-million.

"If [Mr. Robertson]doesn't know, he's incompetent. If he does know, he should be saying," Ms. Anton told The Globe and Mail's editorial board.

Ms. Anton did not respond Monday afternoon to a request for an interview.

Mr. Louie said the estimates were numbers provided by city staff.

"That was what staff told us and I repeated what staff told us in public," he said in an interview.

"Now we have some updated numbers," he said.

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"I asked for the numbers so we have certainty . . .I expect staff give us the most accurate, update information that is available to them," he said.

Asked if he was going to press city staff on why the costs rose higher than anticipated over the past month, Mr. Louie said the staff provided factual information and he did not see what he could do about the numbers.

Mr. Johnston said in an interview the costs reflect the last two weeks of the protest on the plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery and "extreme events" that occurred as the protest moved to other locations.

Protesters closed down intersections, took over a bank and held large marches, he said.

Municipal staff also had to deal with a drug overdose and a death during the protest on the plaza. "We had to ramp up to handle those [events]" he said.

In the report to council, the administrators stated that the unanticipated costs include $590,000 for the Vancouver Police and $345,878 for engineering staff. Overtime accounted for most of the costs.

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They did not refer to the unexpected increase in total costs. However they stated that the expenditures were comparable to other North American cities dealing with the Occupy movement. Seattle spent $625,000, Oakland, more than $2.4-million and Portland, $1.4-million.

"The city can be proud of of the peaceful resolution to the protest in Vancouver, which is in contrast to the violence and conflict that occurred in many cities around the world," the report stated. "Although the city had unanticipated costs related to this global movement, we were able to build on our experience gained through [what we learned]from the Stanley Cup riot and out extensive experience with encampments and resolve the protest without collateral damage to downtown and neighbourhoods involved."

Dozens of Occupy Vancouver protesters were on the plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery from mid-October to Nov. 21.

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