Occupy Toronto has no right to St. James Park

On Tuesday the City of Toronto issued eviction notices to the Occupiers at St. James Park, I am sure in response to my post on Monday. A group of the Occupiers went to a judge for an injunction claiming that the eviction would violate their charter rights. The judge put a stay on the enforcement of the eviction notices until he had heard the arguments on Friday. This puzzles me.

I am not a lawyer. I have zero legal training, but I believe that I have a reasonable grasp on the constitution for a layman. I would have thought that this would be a pretty open and shut case. Isn’t it pretty well established that in Canada if you want to protest on public ground you need a permit? I hadn’t thought that this was a controversial limit on free speech.

As I say I am not an expert on constitutional law, but that doesn’t really matter because regardless of what the judge decides this is a reasonable limit on free speech and the Occupiers should be removed.

Lorne Gunter put it pretty well in his column published earlier today:

You don't have an unreserved right to live in a public space, no matter how fervent your opinions are nor how noble you believe your cause is. Your actions diminish the ability of other citizens to enjoy that public space, too. By demanding that you be permitted to camp out in a city park until income parity is reached or caps to CEO pay are legislated or the dictatorship of the proletariat is achieved, you are, effectively, insisting your rights trump those of other members of the public who may wish to use the common space differently. What gives you that right?

It is a key point that the Occupiers are restricting the ability of others to use the public space. This restriction is a cost that the rest of the public who may wish to use the park must pay. At the same time the Occupiers are completely ignoring the usual method of assigning usage of this public good. Essentially the Occupiers, by claiming exclusive use of the park, are demanding a public subsidy for their free speech.

Here we come to one of the misunderstood aspects of the right to speech and peaceful assembly. For it to be truly peaceful you cannot force others to pay for it. Magazine owners do not have a responsibility to publish everything that is submitted to them. I am not obligated to listen to every speaker with equal attention. And no one has an exclusive claim on a public good for the purposes of voicing an opinion.

The people presently squatting at St. James Park have the right to say and believe what they like, but that right does not allow them to continue to squat on public land.