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Occupy Vancouver pack up following court order

Occupy Vancouver sets up camp at the courthouse, Nov. 21, 2011.

Matthew Black/ The Globe and Mail/Matthew Black/ The Globe and Mail

B.C Supreme Court Justice Anne MacKenzie has ordered an end to Occupy Vancouver's new tent city outside the Robson Square law courts by 5 p.m. PT Tuesday.

However, the judge did not agree to a sweeping injunction sought by the provincial Attorney-General which would have extended to all public lands in the city.

She said suggestions that Occupy Vancouver would simply move to a third location were speculative and might not happen.

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She also said it would not be appropriate to grant such "an exceptional remedy" via an ex-parte injunction, which is based only on evidence from the applicant.

As to her court order to clear Occupy Vancouver from the law courts area, the judge agreed that the presence of the tents amounts to "criminal contempt of court", a finding that could lead to heavy penalties for any occupant who tries to stay beyond 5 p.m.

"The clear effect of the tents is to dominate that space, which is inconsistent with an open court system," Justice MacKenzie declared. "It is the right of any Canadian to have unimpeded access to the courts."

Protesters wasted little time complying with the Supreme Court order.

By 3 p.m., the Robson Square site was virtually devoid of tents. Scores of Occupy Vancouver volunteers were busy loading up material and packing it into a nearby moving van.

Protesters were mum, however, about their next move. They have talked previously about roving occupations, but as of Tuesday afternoon, only a small Occupy committee knew where their third occupation would be, or if it would be anywhere at all.

So far, the protesters in Vancouver have vacated two sites, at the Art Gallery and Robson Square.

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Earlier, lawyer Craig Jones, representing the Attorney-General of B.C., told Justice MacKenzie: "It is time for what remains of this roving protest to end,"

"To permit the occupiers to move from place to place for the sole purpose of evading Court orders, and forcing successive landlords and courts to expand resources evicting them is contemptuous of the spirit and intent of the court's directions."

Mr. Jones was referring to an injunction issued last Friday by Madam Assistant Chief Justice MacKenzie that ordered Occupy Vancouver to dismantle its five-week encampment on the Art Gallery plaza.

Protesters complied with the order Monday, but then moved quickly to set up a second, albeit smaller, tent city at Robson Square, the sprawling provincially-owned complex that includes several levels of court functions, including the B.C. Supreme Court.

Mr. Jones said the presence of nearly 30 tents and other structures outside the entrances to Robson Square courts constitutes criminal contempt of court.

While individuals may still wind their way through the tents to access the courts, protesters dominate the space, and that cannot be allowed, he told Madam Justice MacKenzie.

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"Assertions of dominance and control of public institutions and spaces are by their nature contemptuous of the courts and the citizenry," Mr. Jones asserted.

Occupy Vancouver was not represented at the hearing, and Mr. Jones said his application for an ex parte injunction, which does not require argument from the other side, was justified by the movement's interference in the operation of the courts.

"The presence of the protesters and their structures may reasonably be apprehended to impede or discourage access to the courts, which in itself is offensive to the rights of citizens to seek redress in the courts."

He argued that extra security prompted by the new tent city jeopardizes sheriff resources available to provide courtroom protection and prisoner transferrals, a situation that may lead to trial delays.

To allow the protesters to move from public land to public land, while injunctions are sought to clear every space they occupy, will be perceived by the public as "a thumbing of the nose at the court's directions," Mr. Jones said.

"It is, ipso facto, criminal contempt that is going on outside these doors," he said, and access to that public space is not available to the "real 99 per cent of the citizenry."

Mr. Jones said Occupy Vancouver tactics are clearly part of "a strategic shell game", in which protesters move from public land to public land "chased by individual landowners into the courts, draining valuable judicial resources."

That is why a blanket injunction is needed to prevent occupation of any publicly-owned land - federal, provincial or municipal - in the city, Mr. Jones said.

The former protest encampment at the Art Gallery plaza was abandoned Monday afternoon, but protesters then set up more than a score of tents under a walkway shelter by court facilities on Hornby Street.

There is already a small library, couches, a medical operation and food services at the new site.

Protesters left the art gallery in response to a court injunction issued last Friday by Justice Anne MacKenzie.

At the site Tuesday, civic workers were busy restoring the plaza to its pre-Occupy state.

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