Thursday, 17 November 2011


Halifax has shared with other, much larger cities, an Occupy movement. The Occupiers initially established themselves on the Grand Parade - the central plaza in the middle of the city. After an agreement with veterans associations they agreed to relocated for Remembrance Day (see the post for November 6th) There was certainly the impression amongst the Occupiers and in the media that the Mayor had given indications that the Occupiers could return to the Grand Parade following Remembrance Day. Here's what happened

At 11:00 a.m. on November 11th, a decorated Afghanistan veteran and one of the Occupy protesters, together, laid a wreath and shook hands with Mayor Peter Kelly. At that very moment, police were presenting notices to the Occupiers to permanently remove their tents from the park where they had relocated. They would not be permitted to return to Grand Parade.

Apparently, at a closed door meeting of City Council on Tuesday November 8th the decision had been made to enforce a bylaw forbidding camping in city parks. I say apparently, because no one is saying what happened in that meeting. Halifax City Council is very fond of such meetings. I haven't crunched any numbers, but our city must surely be near the top of the list for such gatherings.

In any event, a couple of hours after the notices were given, police showed up in force, in a driving rain storm, and with a fair degree of aggressiveness, removed the protesters, dismantled their tents and arrested fourteen. All this on Remembrance Day mind you.

Back to City Hall. This Tuesday, November 15th, two or three attempts by councilors to have an open explanation of the decision to remove the protesters were shot down. One that sticks out is when a councilor attempted to move a motion to put the matter on the agenda for the public meeting of Council, the Mayor muted her microphone and declared that the city's solicitor would need to rule on whether her motion was in order. Excuse me! Unless we've instituted a new system where the city solicitor is an elected position, staff can advise the council but the Mayor has the legal responsibility to preside. Staff advise - the elected officials choose whether or not to accept and abide by that advice and must carry the consequences for that decision as for all choices they make. A few hours later, when the same councilor attempted to publicly apologize for her part in the decision to shut down the Occupy encampment, her microphone was turned off and she was silenced because the matter is before the courts (recall those fourteen who were arrested).

So, now we have a situation where a significant action (at least for a city the size of Halifax) was undertaken for reasons that are not being made public. The Mayor is saying that once the decision was made it became "an operational matter" - which is code for, don't blame me it was the police who decided to act when and how they did On something with this kind of political optics? In the absence of fact, rumours are swirling and the political leaders are hiding behind the legal advice to not talk.

So, here's the situation. The lack of engagement by youth with the political process is often bemoaned. What can we do to get them involved, is the routine lament. Admittedly, I haven't been able to figure out a single clear message from the Occupy Movement - and I'm not sure anyone else has. But that may be because they are trying to embody a new way of doing social engagement, that takes multiple voices seriously and doesn't boil everything down to sound bites and attack ads. A way of being society that takes the time to raise multiple concerns and hear them out. Clearly they were offensive to some. Lots of folk are prepared to label them in very dismissive terms. I'm not sure how you compare someone living in a tent in a public park with someone else who passes politicians large sums of money in unmarked envelopes.

Apparently we (or our leaders) are not prepared to even consider engaging with a group that calls the entire system into question - in large measure because the system has brought us to the brink of ecological disaster, financial crisis, social decay and political gridlock. What the actions of Halifax's council seem to declare is that we're only willing to listen to your participation when the system co-opts you. It reminds me of congregations that moan about wanting new members but who really only want newcomers to sustain them in the ways they've become used to and get riled when a newcomer suggests something different. It's a sad day when politicians, meeting in secret and hiding behind advice that they've chosen to take, seek to snuff out a breath of fresh air and suppress a genuine possibility for engagement.

"'Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will rise up,' says the Lord; 'I will place them in the safety for which they long.' The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times." Psalm 12:5-6

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