TORONTO (Reuters) - City workers dismantled tents and cleared debris from a downtown park on Wednesday as part of a restrained, daylong operation by police to peacefully end a five-week encampment by Occupy Toronto protesters.
Backed by a court order, police arrived at dawn at St. James Park, a few blocks from the city’s financial district, and workers began taking down unoccupied structures and cleaning up the site.
Many of the protesters who had camped in the park had already vacated the site, but most of those remaining let the dismantling proceed without interfering. A few screamed at the police or strummed guitars and sang protest songs. Others dug in for an expected stand-off and forcible removal.
By late afternoon, the eviction was still mostly peaceful though a handful of holdouts remained inside tents.
“I am very, very pleased with the progress of the operation so far. It has been orderly, and largely peaceful,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said at a late afternoon press conference.
“I’d like to note that members of Occupy Toronto have been largely peaceful in their protest, and remain so today,” he said.
Police moved in to end the encampment after a court upheld a city eviction order on Monday.
The Toronto action mirrors police operations across North America to clear public spaces from protesters inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement against social and financial inequality.
Ottawa’s Occupy protest was also evicted early on Wednesday morning. Local police said eight of 25 remaining protesters were arrested “without incident” and released on site.
In Toronto, one woman was arrested for trespassing, police said. Protesters who witnessed the arrest said the woman had blocked a truck being used by police and city workers. Police later told reporters she had been released.
Police also removed demonstrators from a central tent containing a “sacred” fire that has been burning throughout the occupation, and evicted several other people from the camp’s makeshift library. One of those protesters, released shortly afterward, told reporters she had been given a C$75 ticket.
Union members supporting the protest helped dismantle some large tents that had been donated, and some demonstrators praised police for making their tents and gear available at another site rather than throwing it all away.
“The police have actually been quite cordial; this is unlike any eviction I’ve seen,” said Darryl Richardson, 28, a protester who said he had been on site since the first day of the occupation. “The police are actually being co-operative in terms of helping us protect our belongings.”
Dozens of uniformed police formed lines to control the movements of protesters but seemed intent on maintaining a low-key tone, dressed in yellow windbreakers and standard uniforms rather than riot gear.
Police reaction to the Toronto protest has been under close scrutiny since day one. Memories of what critics say was a heavy-handed response to protests at last year’s G20 summit are still fresh.
Police chatting with reporters and protesters in the park drew a contrast with violent evictions in the United States, especially events at the University of California at Davis, where students were doused with pepper spray as they sat on the ground.
The operation may not end the demonstrations, however. several protesters said there were plans to return to the park or move the occupation to another site.
Ian Smart, one of the organizers, said he expects protesters to reassemble at another location, perhaps the square outside Toronto’s city hall, a few blocks away.
“I expect the movement to expand,” he said. “It’s like a dandelion going to seed and then spreading in the wind.”
Asked what will happen if the occupiers move, the mayor said that the protest was over.
“If they do go to another park, we will ask them to leave immediately,” Ford said.
Additional writing by Andrea Hopkins and Cameron French, additional reporting by Cameron French; editing by Frank McGurty and Rob Wilson