OTTAWA — A protest movement that started with a few thousand people camping out in the cold concrete jungle of downtown Manhattan, before spreading across other U.S. cities, is making its way north to where it was conceived.
In its July issue, the Vancouver-based anti-capitalist magazine Adbusters called for 20,000 people to head to New York City to mirror the Egyptian occupation of Tahrir Square. Since Sept. 17, thousands have made their home in Zuccotti Square — just blocks from Wall Street — where the Occupy movement physically began.
What started online in Vancouver, with the rallying hashtag cry of #OCCUPYWALLSTREET — will materialize Saturday in rallies and camp-outs in at least six cities across Canada — Ottawa, Victoria, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and of course, Vancouver.
It's clear the movement is gaining steam. What isn't clear is what, exactly, the protesters want.
They call themselves the "99 per cent", because, they say, they are the majority that is supporting the one per cent at the top of the food chain through bank bailouts and tax breaks.
Adrienne Roberts, a post-doctoral fellow in the political science department at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., has studied the recovery, or lack thereof, of the global economy since the 2008 recession. Roberts said the only real surprise about the Occupy protests is that it took so long for them to begin.
"I think it's been three years of a whole lot of people being upset at the government, at the large corporations, at kind of the one per cent, and there hasn't been any unified action, so far. So if anything is surprising it's that it's taken three years," she said.
Roberts said while Canada's economy is in better shape than the U.S. economy, many of the Canadian protesters still have concerns similar to those of many Americans.
"We have the same dominant ideology in Canada, in terms of really prioritizing the interests of large corporations, of the big banks, of the wealthy over the interests of the majority of the population," she said. "That's what I think this movement is really a response to.
Roberts said it's also a return volley on a number of issues, including: the rights of corporations; aboriginal rights; the economy; a perceived attack on organized labour; issues of sex equality; and the environment.
The protesters have struck a chord in every level of society, including the top tier. In an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge, Governor of the Bank of Canada Mark Carney said he sympathizes with their viewpoint.
"I understand the frustration of many people, particularly in the United States. You've had increase in inequality because of — and this started before the financial crisis — but because of globalization, because of technology," he said.
Carney said he sees the protests as part of a constructive process. "This is democratic expression of views. It is a physical, vocal manifestation of . . . cold figures."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also said he sees the protesters' point of view.
There's growing worry about a lack of opportunities for the younger generation — particularly in the United States — and it's up to governments to ensure youth are able to capitalize on their education and find good jobs, he said.
"I can understand some legitimate frustration arising out of that," Flaherty said Thursday.
Carney said it will still take time for the economy to fully recover.
"It will take a while before we return to . . . life before the crisis," Carney said. "It's going to be a very different Canadian economy in that world."
He said in the near future new measures will brought forward to help end the risk of banks being 'too big to fail'. While he said the measures wouldn't eliminate the problem, they would limit the damage failing banks could cause and prevent bailouts.
Protester Timothy Moorley said he is set to camp outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was chosen, according to the group's Facebook page, because it is located between several downtown banks.
A longshoreman by trade, Moorley is embroiled in a negligence lawsuit with a large pharmaceutical company. He is also one of the many organizers for Occupy Vancouver and said that his role is to bring his own story to the protests.
"On the face of what this protest sort of stands for, in terms of social equality, social justice. We need to stop protecting the corporate personhood," he said.
Moorley said each of the protesters he's met so far has his or her own set of issues — and the fact that they haven't pulled together one coherent demand is the nature of the movement.
Roberts agrees. "It would be incredibly difficult to turn around and say, 'Here's our one demand we have. Here's our one problem with the system.' It would be impossible to do. It's not about articulating one problem. It's about, I think, trying to get people to come up with a different understanding of where we can go in the future.
"Forget Obama, this is really starting to bring around the idea that hope is possible, that change is possible. That there might actually be another type of future out there."
Louis Gagnon, a finance professor at Queen's, said that while the movement in the U.S. has gone on for nearly a month, he doesn't expect the same thing to happen in Canada.
"We don't have millions of homeowners on the street now having lost their homes as a result of foreclosures," Gagnon said. "On that basis, if my analysis is correct, I don't expect this movement . . . will have the same traction in Canada as it is having in the United States."
He doesn't think, however, the protest should be ignored.
"I think we have to take this movement seriously. I think that we have to pay attention. People are having a hard time, the future looks bleak," Gagnon said. "We need to reform our systems. Especially in the U.S., there is a need for banking reforms, there is a need for tax reforms.
"If people get less peaceful in the United States, I suspect it's going to get messy (there) quickly. When people don't have work, and they don't have any hope and they don't have a roof over their head, they're much more likely to do extreme things, things that are out of character," Gagnon said.
Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters, said he expects the Saturday's protests to take on a Canadian tone.
"There is a less rabid and aggressive culture here in Canada so I assume that will be on display," Lasn told the Montreal Gazette. "Not only that, but to some degree, young people in Canada haven't suffered quite as much as young people in the U.S. and Spain."
Unemployment at the beginning of the summer for Canadian youth aged 20 to 24 was at approximately 15 per cent, more than double the national average. In Spain, by comparison, 45 per cent of youth aged 16 to 24 are without jobs.
While protesters gather, police and the banks the protesters are targeting are bracing themselves.
Const. Wendy Drummond, spokeswoman for the Toronto police force, said planners weren't sure what to expect.
"We don't know what's going to happen in the future. We don't have the information that is going to lead us there. So at this point, we will deal with a situation as it arises," she said.
According to Drummond, police have several contingency plans in place for any eventuality, but she could not comment on whether riot police would be on hand when protesters file into downtown Toronto.
"The plan that we do have in place, any contingency plans, the two main points that is our focus is facilitating a peaceful and safe environment for everyone involved — protesters and police," Drummond said.
Vancouver police and Mayor Gregor Robertson have warned protesters on the West Coast to keep things peaceful.
On Friday, Robertson said the city's experience with the Stanley Cup riots and the anti-Olympic protests have shown that "large gatherings can sometimes attract small groups of people determined to use these avenues for their own violent ends."
Robertson added that "violence, whether against people or property, will not be tolerated and will only detract from those who wish to legitimately express their opinions."
With files from Jason Fekete, Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun
Josh TapperStaff Reporter 10-15-11
Roughly 2,000 protesters filled St. James Park in downtown Toronto Saturday, heralding the arrival of the Occupy Wall Street movement to Canadian cities.
Similar protests, all based on ideologically nebulous goals, were also held in Vancouver and Montreal on Saturday. The protests were initially called for by the Vancouver-based activist group Adbusters.
“Today they’ve shown that people do care,” Occupy Toronto committee member Taylor Chelsea said of the protesters and activists who gathered to support disparate causes such as First Nations rights, Palestinian liberation and the legalization of marijuana.
“We’re starting to see people realize we are active and we are actively coming to need each other, learn from each other, get informed on the opinions and what’s going on.”
Indeed, the placard slogans — carried by a smorgasbord of teenagers, adults, university students, seniors and even a dog — said it all.
“Stomp out the seed of corporate greed.”
“Respect existence or expect resistance.”
“Stop ignoring youth. We are your tomorrow.”
“End war, feed the poor.”
“Let society decide. Occupy together.”
At 10 a.m., early-rising protesters gathered at the TD Bank Plaza, near King and Bay Sts., where Occupy Toronto committee members rallied the crowd and opened the microphone to protesters eager to air their grievances.
One man said he witnesses too many people eating out of the garbage.
“It’s time to take back the money,” he shouted.
Police, wearing neon-yellow jackets, blocked off Bay St. between King and Wellington Sts., but otherwise sat idly by, observing the vehicle and foot traffic next to their bicycles.
“It's going to be civilized,” said Const. Johnny Moutar. “Everyone has a right to protest. I don't have a problem with it.”
“No one's breaking windows,” said Sgt. Steve Lorriman, comparing Occupy Toronto to the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto.
An hour later, the crowd had swelled and the protesters began a short, peaceful march north on Bay, then east on Adelaide, before settling in St. James Park, next to the Cathedral Church of St. James. Along the way they chanted slogans like “We got sold out, the banks got bailed out” and “We are the 99 per cent.”
According to Chelsea, the committee decided on St. James Park because it believed the open space would help protesters meet and interact.
“It was too crowded to even move around and get to know each other,” Chelsea said of TD Bank Plaza. “Our Toronto parks are so important, so people have space to come and engage.”
Inside the park, speakers’ corners, drum circles, a library and medical tent all quickly took root. Organizers set up a row of port-a-potties as food vendors cooked up veggie dogs.
In large groups and smaller circles, protesters railed against what they see as a David-vs-Goliath battle, or the little guy versus “the man.”
One young woman, a single mother of two, spoke of how she held down two jobs and still couldn’t make ends meet. She said she has maxed out a credit card with a 28 per cent interest rate. Meantime, she also studies part-time and is paying exorbitant tuition fees, she said.
Joe Bright, a 36-year-old online marketer, brought his 7-year-old daughter, Billie, to experience the “global phenomenon” that has spread from New York to Hong Kong to Oahu to Madeira.
In Rome on Saturday, violence broke out between riot police and protesters, leaving at least 70 people injured.
But in Toronto, the attitude was much more laissez-faire. When asked about marijuana usage in the park, one constable said police were sticking to the perimeter and not entering the crowd.
By late afternoon, nearly two dozen tents were pitched in the northeast corner of the park, proving that at least some were there for the long haul. A food station, initially stocked with baskets of red peppers, apples, oranges and granola bars, served a hot vegetarian meal at 7 p.m.
Still, with Occupy Toronto’s goals and plans for the coming days still to be defined, some protesters were planning to head home later in the evening.
Jonathan Lovell, a 26-year-old unemployed auto worker from London, Ont., said it wasn’t practical for him to camp out in Toronto. He said he was leaving at 6 p.m.
“It’s half-assed activism,” he said. “It is what it is.”
With files from Jayme Poisson and Theresa Boyle
Occupy Wall Street in Chicago
10-10-11This week, the group plans to vote on other proposed demands, which include giving theSEC more regulatory power, forgiving student debt, reforming campaign-finance law and enacting the so-called Buffett Rule, a White House proposal to prevent millionaires from paying lower tax than middle-class Americans.