Occupy protest like having ‘nice people’ camped out in your backyard

As the Occupy Toronto protest enters its third week, some questions are being raised about the effect on the neighbourhood near the protest’s St. James Park campsite.

Reverend Douglas Stoute, the Dean and Rector of St. James’ Cathedral, which sits within the occupied park, said the campers have actually been respectful of the grounds and the community.

“This is really not a protest about a clean park… the movement you see here is not something just happening in Toronto, it is something happening around the world. It is about corporate excess. Everybody knows it has gone too far”

The Occupy Toronto protesters have been camped out at the foot of St. James Cathedral at Jarvis Street and King Street since Oct. 15. Toronto Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday was quoted in the Toronto Sun saying he has received numerous complaints from the community and believes the protest has evolved into disparate groups of people just camping in the park.

George Milbrandt, owner of C’est What and the head of the St. Lawrence Market Business Improvement Area (BIA), told the Toronto Observer he has no problem with the protesters but is concerned about the effect the protests could have on business in the area.

“The immediate surrounding businesses are suffering, I think there is a kind of G-20 chill. [But] people don’t realize just how polite and well-behaved the protesters are,” Milbrandt said. “It’s kind of like having the best neighbours in the world. They’re really nice people, but if your neighbours were camping in your backyard you wouldn’t quite feel the same way about them.”

Peter Bromley is a Toronto business owner who has been assisting Occupy Toronto with communication; he said there has been some dialogue between the protesters and the surrounding community.

The discussions have focused on how to address the trampled grass left behind and how to leave the property better than when they arrived. He said there has also been dialogue between the group, Toronto Police and Toronto Fire Services.

Rev. Stoute agrees that efforts have been made to engage the community and insure minimal inconvenience.

“We carry on conversations with people in the park; we talk with the City, with the neighbours and the police. We have had no difficulties, they have been respectful of the Church and respectful of the neighbourhood,” he said.

Milbrandt said he supports the wider aim of the Occupy movement but the problem, he says, is that the protest is camped out at the wrong location; he suggested Nathan Phillips Square as a better location.

“I think it would be a perfect place to have their show of force, to try and make the world more egalitarian. The better off we all are as a group, the better it is for business.”

Rev. Stoute says the Church is not involved in the protests and did not invite them onto the property, however St. James Cathedral has long been a place to express differing opinions in a safe and respectful environment.

“We believe that we are blessed to live in a society where peaceful conversation can take place publicly and where citizens are free to voice their concerns without fear of violence or reprisals.”