On Saturday, a 23-year-old woman called Ashlie Gough died from a suspected overdose at the Occupy Vancouver protest site. Before the weekend, the city’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, had been treading carefully around the protest, stressing the need to avoid violent confrontation; his main opponent in the election due on 19 November, Suzanne Anton of the right-wing NPA party, had been demanding its closure. Both showed up for photo opportunities at the site on Sunday.
After the news of Gough’s death broke, Robertson declared the tent city a ‘health and safety hazard’. The Fire Department had been plodding about on the site last week and expressed strong concerns, which the occupiers resisted at first but later complied with. On Sunday evening the mayor released a statement which included the following ‘imminent life safety risks’:
enclosing of multiple tents with flammable tarps, tents positioned close together, and piles of personal belonging and other debris that contribute to the fire risk – all of which interfere with access by first responders;
evidence of propane use and other flammables within the encampment structures – something which has increased with the colder weather;
increasing use of IV drugs on the site.
He also said:
An ongoing Occupy Vancouver protest movement that expresses itself publicly can do so without an encampment on public space.
This is rather missing the point of the Occupy movement, which isn’t about holding a bake sale under a banner between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m and taking your dustpan home with you. But nor is it some kind of scruffy set-down for complaining crusties and lazy anarchist nutbars, who are about to go up in flames. I was underwhelmed the first couple of times I went, a few weeks ago, put off by the borrowed cross-border slogans and the offers of ‘free hugs’. But things have developed since then. With its emphasis on co-operation and collaboration, education and participation, the tent city is probably the most civilised place in Vancouver.