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Lawyer for Occupy Victoria protest evokes Gandhi, Martin Luther King in court

Nov 18 2011
Members of Occupy Victoria outside the courthouse during a break in proceedings on Thursday Nov. 17, 2011.  

Members of Occupy Victoria outside the courthouse during a break in proceedings on Thursday Nov. 17, 2011.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford, timescolonist.com

The lawyer representing the Occupy Victoria protest evoked the names of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in B.C. Supreme Court Thursday as he argued in support of the movement's continuing presence in Centennial Square.

"Protesters paving the way for the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. never sought the consent of state officials when they embarked on political expression," said Rajinder Sahota. "The similarity between the movements of yesterday and those of today's Occupy Movement are striking."

Both were condemned and thwarted by state officials, but persevered despite police batons and injunctions, said Sahota.

"So too will the Occupy Movement persevere. The question is, which side of history is the law and judiciary going to be on?"

Sahota will have his answer this morning when Justice Terence Schultes decides whether or not to grant the City of Victoria an injunction to clear tents from the square. The city has asked the court for an enforcement order giving police the authority to arrest or detain protesters if the injunction is granted and people do not comply.

The Occupy Victoria protest began Oct. 15. On Oct. 27, the city council passed a motion supporting the movement and the democratic rights of people all over the world to non-violent assembly and social protest. On Nov. 8, the city filed notice that it was applying for a court injunction to clear the tents.

It is also seeking an order prohibiting the protesters from occupying the square in future without written permission of the director of parks, recreation and culture.

In court Thursday, protesters sniffled, coughed and muttered when City of Victoria lawyer Tom Zworski told Schultes the city has to prepare for a number of permitted events including Chillin' for Charity, a caroling competition and the Christmas Light-up. The Downtown Victoria Business Association has planned a skating rink for six years, he said.

The protesters will argue their constitutional right to freedom of expression has been violated, said Zworski. "The DVBA is equally entitled to promote its message in Centennial Square and equally worthy of constitutional protection," he said.

Although many protesters have been accommodating, the movement does not have an identified leader and the population in the square changes, making it difficult for the city to rely on any agreement, he said.

The city is also concerned about safety, said Zworski. A fire inspector found unsafe use of open flames in tents. He also noted that fire exits on buildings in the square had been blocked.

Some people in the gallery laughed when Zworski told Schultes an elderly woman had tripped and fallen in the square.

The city takes no issue with the message the social protest group wish to communicate, but it does take issue with the way they have displaced others, said Zworski. If the injunction is not granted, the city and those with permits for events would suffer irreparable harm, he said.

Sahota called the city's "about-face" shameful and cowardly. The city's attempt to thwart the public, political expression of the protesters is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he said.

"We are indeed in a sorry state if freedom of political expression and assembly require pre-authorized approval from state officials before it takes place," he said.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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