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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to Occupy protesters: Time to 'move on'

A protester puts on his boots inside a tent at the Occupy Vancouver site in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Monday November 7, 2011. City officials have notified the camp to immediately pack up their tents and vacate the site.

DARRYL DYCK/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Mayor Rob Ford says it is time for Occupy Toronto protesters to leave their makeshift camp in the city's downtown.

Mr. Ford did not provide details of how he plans to end the weeks-long protest at St James Park, saying he is waiting to meet with the police chief to formulate a plan. Still, he left no doubt of what he feels the final outcome should be.

"They have had a peaceful protest. I think it is time that we ask them to move," he told reporters after a tour with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty of the dig site for the city's new crosstown light rail line.

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Mr. McGuinty said he is leaving it up to local governments to decide how to handle the protests, calling it a "city issue. "

"I will let the City of Toronto make those local calls, he said.

The city estimates that it will cost roughly $25,000 to repair the damaged grass as a result of the makeshift camp. If an underground sprinkler system is not drained before winter, damage from frozen pipes could add another $40,000 a spkeswoman for the city said.

Mr Ford said he has received many calls about the protest. "People have told me they have had enough. I think it is the right thing to do to ask them to move on," he said.

Octavian Cadabeschi, of the Occupy outreach team, says "we have absolutely no interest in moving on. If the city moves against the camp, we will mobilize people in the park and make it very difficult to happen."

He said "it's no surprise we're getting that message from Rob Ford given he's one of our main targets. If he wants us to move on he's probably starting to get scared of us."

Animosity toward the protest is reaching a fever pitch among local businesses and residents as well. A number of local shops have said that income is down between 10 and 30 per cent over the past three weeks. Dozens of those neighbourhood stakeholders are planning to meet at the Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill on Thursday afternoon to form a united front in pressuring the mayor to take action.

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"We want to tell the mayor that we're tired of this," said Starfish owner Patrick McMurray. "I wish he would have taken action on day one. It's peaceful, yes, but they are still breaking the law."

Mr. McMurray is on the local business improvement association and said it could cost up to $100,000 to bring the park back to its original condition.

"I'm not against protests, but there are better places," he said. "We want it to be a usable park. Right now I have clients phoning me asking if it's safe to come and eat."

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday met with Mr. McMurray earlier this week. He agreed that the protestors should move but said the city faces a number of logistical challenges.

Mr. Holyday said that the city faces a logistical challenge in figuring out what to do with ousted protestors. "There are people who have attended this event from across the country and many have assorted issues to work out. It's not responsible of us to simply turn them out on the street."

Mr. Ford's remarks come as the Occupy movements in three Canadian cities are facing challenging moments, with a man suffering an apparent overdose in Toronto, police in London dismantling the protesters' encampment and clashes with police and firefighters in Vancouver.

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Even as some protesters insist they preparing for the long-haul, officials in Toronto and Vancouver are increasingly eager to see an end to the occupations.

A hearing is to resume Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court as the city seeks to evict the protesters from the Vancouver Art Gallery, citing hazardous fire conditions, intoxication and drug use.

In Toronto, emergency service workers intervened Tuesday morning at the occupation camp in St. James Park after a man in his 20s suffered an apparent overdose.

The man was wheeled away on a gurney and taken to hospital but his life is not threatened, said city spokeswoman Margaret Dougherty.

It was the first major health scare at the Toronto protest but it came days after one death and a near-fatal overdose in Vancouver.

In London, 30 to 40 people remained in Victoria Park Wednesday morning after a night-long standoff with police.

London Mayor Joe Fontana had issued a 6 p.m. deadline earlier Tuesday, some 2½ weeks after protesters first began setting up tents in the park.

About 1,000 people came to the park in the evening to hear a speech by Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan. After the supporters left, police and London city workers moved onto the site at 1 a.m. and dismantled the protesters' tents.

A showdown is also expected in Vancouver, after police clashed with protesters overnight Monday, with two officers being sent to hospital for treatment of deep bites.

Protesters tried to prevent firefighters from dousing an open fire in a barrel and punched, kicked and bit police officers, Police Chief Jim Chu said.

At a court hearing to obtain an injunction to end the Vancouver occupation, the city filed an affidavit from city engineering superintendent Murray Wightman saying he has seen rats, filthy water and fist fights at the protest site.

Another affidavit said that police found a crack pipe and cigarettes in the tent where 23-year old protester Ashlie Gough died Saturday.

The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday to give protesters a chance to find a lawyer to represent them.

With a report from Marcus Gee

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief


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