Commentary

Brookfield Has a Responsibility to Allow Peaceful Assembly

The Canadian company that manages Zuccotti Park on Wall Street wants to oust the protesters on the pretext of cleaning the park.

By Lorenzo Somma
Published October 14, 2011

While are more likely to hear about car bombings in Bagdad than word on the growing Occupy Wall Street movement on your local and nation news networks, a recent development has left me scratching my head.

Most of us (I hope) are at least vaguely familiar with the 99% vs. 1% nature of the movement, and it is fair to say that most of us likely agree that the freedom to peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right. (If you don't agree, you might be living in the wrong country, as it is not only an opinion, it's also the law.)

The freedom to assemble, tied in with the freedom of speech, is what sets our government and society apart from many of the other nations of the world. These freedoms allow us to speak out against the government or powers that be, when we disagree or need to criticize their actions. It is a right that allows us to maintain such large nations.

This freedom acts as a social lubricant that keeps our legal system ever-evolving and minimizes the need of a nation to directly control the will of its people. We all agree to certain rules and get along as a larger family because of this.

But it only works when these fundamental rights are protected by the state they stand for. When people are angry, they need to demonstrate it peaceably, because the alternative is revolutionary.

When tens of thousands, if not more, people unite in peaceful anger, the reaction must always be to take them seriously, protect them and above all: Actively listen to why they are angry.

As this movement goes and spreads into other countries - Occupy Bay Street starts tomorrow - it will become more important that we ensure all players protect the rights of these citizens to assemble and have their voices heard.

Also, we must not allow loopholes to hamper freedom, as is taking place on Wall Street right now, at the hands of a Canadian firm.

Brookfield Asset Management

The main centralization of the Occupy Wall Street movement is located in Zuccotti Park. This site houses the tarps and sleeping bags of the denizens that make up the movement. Brookfield Asset Management owns and maintains the physical land this park occupies, and now this Canadian firm is threatening to oust the protesters, citing that the park needs to be cleaned.

This tactic has been used before as a loophole to break up popular protest in the past. That a Canadian firm, whose history is literally set in bringing light to the peoples of the world, should use such a ploy to break up a popular movement, is disappointing to the highest degree.

There are a few cut and pastes I would like to throw at you right now, the first is from the Brookfield Code of Business Conduct & Ethics [PDF]:

LEGAL AND REGULATORY COMPLIANCE

COMPLIANCE WITH LAWS, RULES AND REGULATIONS

Know and comply with all laws, rules and regulations applicable to your position.

Many of the company's activities are subject to complex and changing laws, rules and regulations. Ignorance of the law is not, in general, a defense to an action for contravention. We expect directors officers and employees to make every reasonable effort to become familiar with laws, rules and regulations affecting their activities and to exert due diligence in complying with these laws, rules and regulations and to ensure that those individuals reporting to them are also aware of these laws, rules and regulations. No director, officer or employee may enter into any arrangement contrary to applicable requirements or laws. Our objective is to restrict willful or negligent violations of these laws, rules and regulations.

Now, take a look at sections from these two important documents: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2:

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

And the United States Bill of Rights, Amendment I:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I'm no law professor, but I am pretty sure that constitutional laws that are entrenched to a nation's legal code trump any city ordinance law requiring to keep a park clean. By their own code of conduct:

No director, officer or employee may enter into any arrangement contrary to applicable requirements or laws.

Take your pick, Brookfield, us or the U.S.: either way, you need to step down and allow citizens their right to assemble. (An apology to the citizens in Zuccotti Park wouldn't hurt, either. Nothing says you're sorry like buying everyone lunch.)

I encourage all citizens to demonstrate their outrage at this threat by a Canadian firm, by signing this petition. Further to this end, I would like to see the United Way back our human right to peaceful assembly and commit to breaking their charity ties to this organization, should Brookfield fail to do the right thing.

Keep checking up on the websites of this fundamentally important movement, and keep asking the questions our news media do not seem to be asking. We are the 99%, this is about YOU.

Lorenzo is a former COO and co-founder of Pownz Games Center Inc, a youth oriented business formally located in downtown Hamilton, Ontario. He is passionate about inspiring leadership and resilience in others and using purpose driven strategic planning to achieve goals. Lorenzo advocates that the entrepreneur will be the labour force of the new economy, with creativity being the new bottom line. Lorenzo has served individuals and organizations as an intrapreneur and business coach over the last several years.

Be awesome.

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By Stand up in Soldiarity (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 14:58:28

Occupy Hamilton: tomorrow at noon at Gore Park. Stand in solidarity with the many around the globe who are taking a stand against corporate greed and corruption.

We cannot just believe that all Canadian Corporations are the good guys, because that is simply not true. Everyone needs to be aware and particpate in this peaceful action.



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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2011 at 15:06:31

So far the eviction has been postponed. A few thousand people showed up early this morning and the the city was forced to put off its plans. Encampments in other cities, like Denver and San Diego, haven't been so lucky.

Tomorrow rallies are expected in nearly a thousand cities worldwide. Hamilton's will be starting at noon in Gore Park. These really aren't issues that a city like ours can afford to ignore. Hope to see some of ya there.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 16:48:21

Brookfield has a responsibility to allow peaceful assembly?

You seem to cite the constitituion as authority for this, although the constitituion generally applies to actions between the state and private actors, not between two private actors (i.e. brookfield and the protestors).

While some decisions out of Canada discuss the potential that a mall is the "new city square" and that protesting should therefore be allowed even thought it's technically private property, I'm unfamiliar with US law in this area.

Generally speaking though, to say that one person has the responsibility to permit another person to protest on their property seems generally wrong to me. I can't come and picket in your front yard, and you can't choose to picket inside an exclusive club. I just don't think people should be able to impose on your private property like that, not even for the purposes of freedom of speech or assembly.

Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are valuable, and I will defend them, but I think they should take place on public land (municipal, federal, provincial, etc.) and not on private property.

I think that all people, police, government officials, etc. should work together to ensure that protesting happens freely on public land, but I don't think private landowners like brookfield should have to accomdoate protestors on their property.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted October 17, 2011 at 06:32:27 in reply to Comment 70588

Interestingly, according to the Wikipedia article on Zuccotti Park, the fact it is not a public park appears to be working in the protestors' interest:

Because Zuccotti Park is not a publicly owned space, it is not subject to ordinary public park curfew. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said on September 28, 2011, that the NYPD could not bar protesters from Zuccotti Park since it is a public plaza that is required to stay open 24 hours a day. "In building this plaza, there was an agreement it be open 24 hours a day," Kelly said. "The owners have put out regulations [about what's allowed in park]. The owners will have to come in and direct people not to do certain things."

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By occupy this (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2011 at 15:30:28

If the rabble decides to occupy the park adjacent to our house they will be sorry. They have all the right in the world to assemble and protest all day long. The law is pretty clear the park is out of bounds after 11:00 PM

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By occupy this (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2011 at 01:20:46

Just watching "Byline with Brian Lilley" on TV. They are doing a piece on the Occupy Toronto gathering. Seems the overwhelming vast majority of the attendees are very very ignorant of the facts. Sort of like the authors on this page. At least they aren't apathetic, just ignorant.

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By occupy this (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2011 at 09:19:19

what is the comment score based on?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 20, 2011 at 14:38:22

It's worth mentioning that nearly all of the thousand-ish arrests so far have been for occupying roads or sidewalks - both areas where the Constitution clearly applies. The arrest rates for those who've been protesting inside "exclusive clubs" like the other day's chaos at the Southebys Auction has been much lower.

At what point does one's right to a quiet and uninterrupted life end? How long can I expect the rest of the world, no matter what they're facing, to fall in line and do as they're told because you don't want to be inconvenienced?

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