As the Occupy Wall Street movement heads north, cities across Canada will host demonstrations on Saturday. Here's a snapshot of what's happening in four Canadian cities.
Occupy Calgary organizers acknowledge that the central role of the oil industry in their city’s economy will make it difficult to get their fellow citizens on board for a movement that aims to overturn the global financial system. But it’s precisely that connection between oil and prosperity that motivated many of them to bring the Occupy movement to Calgary.
“Eighty per cent of Calgarians do well and are happy with their lives,” spokesperson Kelly Dowdell said. “But we are a boom-and-bust economy, and when things go well these days, they go well for fewer and fewer people.”
Most of the Calgary group’s organizers are local activists well versed in lobbying for everything from affordable housing to gay, lesbian and transgender rights. Ms. Dowdell said the protest will emphasize growing income disparities and the high cost of living in Calgary as well as concerns about oil-sands projects in northern Alberta.
Protesters plan to gather outside the upscale Bankers Hall office and shopping complex around twin 52-storey office towers in the city centre. They’ll decide that afternoon whether to march and where to camp out.
Calgary Police Service spokesperson Kevin Brookwell said police have met with organizers almost daily to go over plans and discuss potential security issues. He said a “regular number” of uniformed and plainclothes officers will be at the demonstration, but that reinforcements could be called from other parts of the city if the crowd starts to grow.
The City of Calgary has given protesters permission to camp on city-owned St. Patrick’s Island on the Bow River and provided toilets and a fire pit. About 60 people have set up tents on the island, and organizer Paul Hughes said he had asked the city for medical supplies, potable water and portable showers.
With anti-Olympic protests and post-Stanley Cup riots still fresh on the mind, some Vancouverites view the Occupy Vancouver movement with concern. Downtown businesses are taking extra precautions to prevent more damage barely four months after angry hockey fans rampaged through the city core.
“We have no issue with the subject matter, but there is a feeling among business owners that they have to protect their property,” said Dave Jones, a security consultant for the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
Mr. Jones said businesses have been advised to beef up security when demonstrators gather on Saturday in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. But with the memory of the riots hanging over them, organizers said they are determined to hold a peaceful protest and have had an open dialogue with police.
“I cannot guarantee there won’t be riot-like behaviour, but most of us who will be there are advocating for peace,” said Min Reyes, who helped set up Occupy Vancouver. “If someone is advocating riot-like behaviour, I think we can talk them out of it.”
The Vancouver Police Department said it expects a peaceful protest, but have a plan in place if violence or looting erupt.
“The VPD recognizes the vital role that lawful protest plays in a free and democratic society, and we will take all steps necessary to help facilitate and keep the participants safe,” Constable Jana McGuinness said. If there is trouble, the VPD is asking witnesses to record crimes on their cellphone cameras and send videos to police.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement the city recognized protesters’ concerns, but would not tolerate “small groups of people determined to use these avenues for their own violent ends.”
The Occupy Vancouver group was created to protest against “the government’s empty rhetoric,” Ms. Reyes said, adding the Occupy movement resonates in Vancouver because of the high cost of living and large gaps between the “haves and have-nots.”
“Occupy Wall Street gave us the tools to realize we don’t need a hero. It just has to be the ordinary you and I.” About 1,700 people have signed on to Occupy Vancouver’s Facebook page but Ms. Reyes said she does not know how many will attend the protest. The B.C. Federation of Labour has asked members to attend Saturday’s event.
Kevin Donaghy attended the G20 protests in Toronto and came home “shocked” by the violence that broke out between demonstrators and police. The prospect of joining what could become a global movement to fight the capitalist system has given him and other organizers of Occupy Ottawa a new sense of energy and determination. “We’re all on the same page … and we feel we can make this into something monumental.”
Even so, Mr. Donaghy said the Occupy Ottawa protest will likely be relatively small. He hopes 500 to 1,000 people will gather at Confederation Square, a ceremonial area with Canada’s National War Memorial at its centre. They plan to stay “a number of days, if not weeks,” Mr. Donaghy said.
To try to “build critical mass,” organizers distributed information about the protest on university campuses and leaflets at homeless shelters.
Protesters hope to address a wide range of issues they say epitomize corporate greed, including environmental issues, treaty rights, gender rights, refugee rights and voting reform. “We’re here where politicians are making those decisions. It think they are swayed by corporate entities,” Mr. Donaghy said.
Mr. Donaghy said organizers decided early on against working closely with the police. But he said the group is determined the demonstrations will be peaceful and has held training sessions in non-violent protest. The Ottawa Police Service said it will have a “visible” presence at the event.
With anger over the use of force during the G20 summit in June, 2010, still running high, the relationship between organizers of the Occupy Toronto movement and police is best described as distrustful.
Neither has contacted the other to discuss security. Plans for the protest in Toronto’s financial district include setting up a team of lawyers for anyone who is arrested, and offering legal defence workshops. A petition to Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair called for restraint and respect for the rights of demonstrators.
“It is the responsibility of the Toronto Police Service to ensure the safety of citizens, ensure that individual rights are upheld and that property is protected, not to act as political agents on behalf of the current government,” the petition says.
Organizer Farshad Azadian said that, after the mass arrests at the G20 protests, the distrust was understandable.
“Chief Bill Blair is still around and no apology has been made. Nothing has been said that this is not going to happen again,” he said.
Toronto police said they have a plan for the protests, but would not reveal details. One insurance company recommended business take precautions such as keeping their lights on overnight and removing anything from the street that could be used to damage a building.
Mr. Azadian said the Toronto organizers are a mix of experienced activists and concerned citizens who support the Occupy Wall Street movement’s fight against “corporate greed and inequality” and a declining standard of living.
“Toronto is the heart of corporate Canada, the big banks have their headquarters here and Bay Street is a symbol of the obscene wealth in our society,” he said.
Investment bank National Bank Financial has advised its employees to dress down on Monday so that they don't stick out in any crowds. The same advice was given during the G20.
Organizers have held two “general assemblies” and several other meetings to plan. Some 9,500 people have signed on to the group’s Facebook page.
The Canadian Auto Workers and three Canadian Union of Public Employees locals said members will attend the protest.
With files from Tim Kiladze
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