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Occupy Vancouver leaves art gallery, moves to courthouse

Ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to shut down the tent city, Occupy Vancouver protesters packed up their belongings and left the grounds of the art gallery today -- only to resettle at the provincial courthouse on the other side of the block.

"We're acting in full compliance with the court's injunction," said one protester, who would not give his name.

According to a number of demonstrators on the scene, last Friday's Supreme Court decision ordering campers off the property of the Vancouver Art Gallery does not apply to surrounding public spaces. In addition, they add, the courthouse lies on provincial land, meaning Vancouver police cannot enforce bylaws there without the invitation of provincial authorities.

As covered on Twitter by The Tyee, today's relocation began at around 2 p.m. this afternoon when the majority of protesters still remaining at the Occupy Vancouver site started marching, tents held aloft, down Vancouver's entertainment and shopping thoroughfare, Granville Street. After looping around the back of the provincial courthouse, the procession finally settled atop the steps of Robson Square where a number of demonstrators gave short speeches reaffirming their commitment to the Occupy Movement.

At the bottom of the steps, cheers of "welcome home!" and "whose court? our court!" were heard amongst the crowd as tents were reassembled before the Hornby Street entrance of the courthouse. As the new, much smaller tent city went up, many of the campers were diligent to keep pathways clear and courthouse fire exits free of obstructions.

Since the extended protest began on October 15th, the Occupy Vancouver tent city has been censured by municipal officials for alleged fire, health, and safety violations.

At approximately 4:45 p.m., the police made their first and only arrest of the afternoon after a man got into a heated argument with a member of the Vancouver Fire Department over offensive statements the fire safety officer is said to have made towards an aboriginal man and woman. The incident prompted a number of the Occupy protesters to surround the arresting officers, before moving into the center of the intersection of Robson and Howe street.

As of 6 p.m. this evening, a handful of protesters were still sitting in the center of the intersection with police redirecting traffic.

In response to the relocation of the campsite, provincial officials may either seek a new injunction against the protesters or may simply invite the Vancouver Police Department onto the grounds of the courthouse to arrest the campers for trespassing.

There is also the possibility, said one legal expert observing today's protests, that a judge may act unilaterally, ordering protesters off of courthouse property if their presence is seen to be impinging upon the administration of justice.

At 6:45 p.m. this evening, Premier Christy Clark tweeted that she was "very disappointed to learn that the spirit of the court's ruling is being ignored."

By the time of the filing of this story, it remains unclear exactly how city or provincial authorities will react to today's reoccupation.

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee

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