A 4 p.m. deadline came and went Thursday, with environmental activists holding their ground at the site of the Hanlon Creek Business Park construction.
The protesters’ encampment on the land had been made ready for a confrontation with police, but by late afternoon a showdown hadn’t materialized. Throughout the day, opponents of the business park dug deep trenches across access roads and trails, an effort to make them impassable to vehicles.
Activists have occupied the site since Monday, and say they have no intention of voluntarily leaving the camp they set up on City of Guelph owned land. A rally is planned for Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. on the property, which activists deem environmentally significant, fragile and essential to preserve.
The city issued a notice of trespass Wednesday at around 4 p.m., giving the group of about 30 protesters 24 hours to vacate the site and allow construction to resume. With the deadline approaching on Thursday, a growing number of supporters of the occupation arrived at the site, including families with small children.
At one point about 70 people gathered around a fire pit. A native ceremony was performed, accompanied by drum music. Stories were shared and plans discussed. At the end of a period of silent reflection, a woman shouted, “Are we going to stand our ground, or what?” Cheers erupted.
About 25 other activists and supporters, including a number of people seated in parked cars, sat at the entrance to the site, awaiting the arrival of Guelph Police. A television crew set up a live-link at the location. One woman seated on the side of the road sketched out a watercolour painting. Another flipped Taro cards on a cloth that appeared to hold a number of ceremonial objects.
The protesters’ spokespeople, Sam Ansleis and Will Dubois, said leaving the site is counter to the objectives of the occupation, which is to halt the construction for good and force the city to reverse its plans to turn wild fields and woods into asphalt and concrete covered industrial lands.
“We remain committed to protecting this area,” Ansleis said at the site late Thursday afternoon. “We are not willing to move to a free speech zone.”
The city offered the protesters an alternate site on the property to stage their protest, but protesters declined the offer.
“This would only be a dialogue with the city if they are willing to entertain the possibility of an end to this development,” Dubois said.
Ansleis added the city is “not interested in real dialogue, but the appearance of dialogue.”
Guelph Police spokesperson Constable Kevin McCord said Thursday afternoon that police do not want to take an “aggressive stance” in the matter, and he hoped the protesters will continue to act in a peaceful manner.
Only if the city gives directives to clear the protesters out will police act accordingly, he added. Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge said earlier in the week the city would not condone illegal activity at the site. There are health and safety concerns related to the occupation, she added.
“Come four o’clock, if they haven’t moved or aren’t going to move, then I would imagine there is going to be some communication with them,” McCord said. “But what that is going to be and who is going to do it, I can’t say right now. As always, we will want to deal with them in the most peaceful, non-conflicting way possible.”
Ansleis reiterated the purpose of the protest.
“Our intention, my intention, was to protect the land and protect that area,” she said. “I don’t think that by leaving or moving to an alternate site we are protecting that area from being further destroyed by the city. So I don’t think having a demonstration at an alternate site will accomplish what we intended to accomplish.”