One week before Occupy Wall Street-style demonstrations are expected to begin in hundreds of locations around the world, organizers in several Canadian cities are holding meetings to muster their numbers and iron out their plans for the event.
Demonstrators in New York have occupied a park in the city’s financial district for three weeks, holding frequent marches through the streets to express their frustration with the gap between the world’s wealthiest individuals and everyone else.
In Vancouver, organizers are expecting the B.C. Federation of Labour to add its clout – and organizing skills – to the occupation that is set to begin Oct. 15 outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.
In Toronto, nearly 300 people gathered in Berczy Park on Friday for a three-hour meeting on this week’s demonstration. Protesters in the city plan to occupy a space near Toronto’s financial district, but they have not yet settled on a location.
Vancouver police are being kept informed of plans in that city in a bid to keep the demonstration family-friendly, said Min Reves, one of the organizers. “In Vancouver we have a huge number of people who don’t consider themselves activists. Having opened the channel of communication with police, allows them transparency they wanted so they can safely bring their kids,” she said after a packed meeting Saturday set a loose framework for what she promised will be an indefinite occupation.
“We plan to isolate and identify any individuals with violent behaviour. Kids come first.”
Organizers in Toronto, however, have cut off communications with police, reflecting residual anger over policing response to last year’s G20 protests.
The Toronto group has no recognized spokespeople. Its most active organizers are reluctant to speak publicly out of a concern that they could be viewed as leaders in a movement they are trying hard to keep open and leaderless.
Occupy Vancouver is also operating on a consensus basis. Kevin Kelso, another self-identified organizer, said a number of participants objected to plans to co-operate with police but they did not win over the crowd that gathered Saturday to strategize.
He is hopeful the BC Federation of Labour and other unions will join to help deliver a mainstream, peaceful demonstration. “I believe the BC Fed will officially announce their support on Tuesday. They definitely have their concerns but I believe they will be there.”
A spokesman for the BC Fed said Sunday no decision has been made.
In Toronto, where the Occupy movement has attracted a mix of experienced activists and newcomers to protests, even coming to an agreement on process was a challenge. “There’s no consensus on having consensus,” one man shouted following a long discussion about the relative merits of voting.
Dave Wakely, president of the local paramedics union, said he plans to help staff a medic station at the Toronto occupation site. He said the movement is just getting off the ground, and it will take time for it to become more cohesive and organized. “People have to work hard to figure out what they want. The general assembly, hopefully, will get us there,” he said.
Michael Goodbaum, president of Rock the Vote, has pledged that organization’s support for the movement. He says he’s aiming to make the event as fun as he can, and avoid the chaos that hit Toronto streets during the G20.
“What we’re trying to achieve is just the most peaceful protest possible,” Mr. Goodbaum said.
Janet Conway, a Brock University professor who is the Canada research chair in social justice, said the Occupy Wall Street movement is different from many protests in recent years because its participants have eschewed uniting under a single demand.
“Issues of clarity around messaging and focus have certainly sparked lively debates,” Ms. Conway said. “But there’s actually quite a lot of resonance on what different individuals are saying [about why they’re participating]”
Groups in Calgary, Victoria and Edmonton are also planning action on Oct. 15.
Editor's note: Kevin Kelso is the organizer of Occupy Vancouver. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story, this version has been ammended.