By Sean Meyer/London Community News
Mayor Joe Fontana helped launch the Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign on Tuesday (Nov. 1), but due to the Occupy London activists, not where he had originally planned.
The official launch of the Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign — and the lighting of the purple light tree — took place in southwest corner of Victoria Park at Clarence and Dufferin streets. The campaign tree has, in previous years, been located in the northwest corner of the park, however the city decided to move the ceremony because of the Occupy London protestors.
“The focus tonight is on the Shine the Light campaign, but there is no doubt we have had to move the location of the tree because we weren’t getting some cooperation from some people who believe they can occupy our park, unlawfully, at night,” Fontana said. “When we tried to install our lights we were not able to do so and therefore had to rush to make sure, one, we could do it, and two, we could find a location where the lights could go on.”
Fontana said the ongoing occupation of the park is beginning to become problematic for city staff. In addition to affected the lighting of the Shine the Light tree, the mayor said other upcoming events such as the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph and the annual Lighting of the Lights festivities — not to mention normal servicing of the park — is now being affected by the occupation.
“We can’t prepare the park for events for the future; we can’t even purge our systems in term of watering, so it is becoming really problematic,” Fontana said. “So far we have been very, very patient. They can be here as long as they want during the daytime, but they can no longer occupy the park.”
As far as interfering with the Shine the Light campaign, Eric Shepperd, an Occupy London spokesperson, said the mayor was mistaken. Shepperd said tents that were in the way of the original purple tree location had been moved out of the way by approximately mid-morning on Monday.
Fontana said that move was too late to allow the lighting ceremony to take place at the original location.
“It takes a lot longer than just a day to put these lights up,” Fontana said. “If you are telling me you gave us the right to put the lights on the citizens of London’s tree, I’m sorry, I should not have to ask permission. We tried to do that last week and we were not allowed to do so.”
The mayor said the city had been quite fair with the occupation members, but that interfering with the park’s maintenance and operation was causing issues that can no longer be ignored.
“In the same way are trying to purge our sprinkler system. In the same way we are trying to make sure nobody uses our electrical system,” Fontana said. “I have left the bathrooms open, we have been very respectful. We tried to negotiate. It is becoming problematic — there are liability issues, I even worry about their health and safety as the weather changes.”
Earlier in the day Fontana said he made a compromise offer to defuse the situation. The mayor said the city has offered Occupy London the opportunity to set up an education structure in the park and to allow them to utilize it between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Although Fontana said he wasn’t setting a deadline, he re-emphasized that staying in the park during the nighttime is not an option that is on the table.
Shepperd said Occupy London is considering the education tent offer, but that he didn’t believe it would be enough to satisfy the group.
“The problem is, as part of the occupation, that necessitates occupying, which means we do need to somewhat be here in the middle of the night, “Shepperd said. “This isn’t just about having an education thing. This isn’t about people coming together during the day. This is about people coming together as a community. This necessitates that we are together.”
Fontana, however, said both he and many other London residents are running out of patience with the occupation.
“I am (running out of patience) and so are the people of London. My emails, my calls from councillors, calls from other people are starting to say you gave them an opportunity to speak . . . but there comes a point in time when things need to be done to this park,” Fontana said. “I would rather have this park be the symbol of peace and harmony and respect for women and not necessarily have an occupation of our park when it needs to be open to the public and needs to be operated and maintained. That is all we want to do.”