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Hours later, Occupy Toronto takes to the streets

Thousands of people took part in a peaceful protest as part of Occupy Toronto on Oct. 15, 2011. The day began with a gathering in the financial district followed by a march to St. James Park where speeches, music, and performances took place around the park while tents were set up for accommodation, first aid, and food and water distribution.

Peter Power/Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail

After nearly a three-hour discussion of if and when they should march, Occupy Toronto demonstrators finally took the streets and marched to Dundas Square. Their occupation lasted only 10 minutes, before the group walked back to St. James park.

The group chanted "we say fight back" and "we are the 99 per cent" as they marched on the roads, while also stopping at traffic signals.

The next general meeting at 6 pm will likely focus around plans for Monday as the financial district reopens for business.

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Occupy Toronto demonstrators want to discuss and make decisions collectively, but the large group size without a hierarchy speaking order means discussions frequently are tangential and meander between logistics, political rhetoric and procedural issues.

As one participant said in frustration, "I'm not even sure what we are discussing right now."

"This is really frustrating," said another participant Michael Goodbaum, 23. "I don't even know why we are trying to reach consensus on the structure of the protest, when we should actually be out protesting. But I don't really want to criticize the movement, because these are just growing pains."

The group also ditched the people's mic system - where the crowd repeats everything a speaker says - for a short while in favour of using a megaphone for "accessibility issues" for people who find the repetition distracting and difficult to understand.

Others were concerned that some of the participants might have more control over the group's actions, because of their involvement in the action or facilitation committees.

One demonstrator said the discussion was turning "Animal Farm-like," referring to the George Orwell novel quote that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Toronto's St. James park is now tent city central for the Occupy Toronto movement. Some protesters were woken awake by the loud church bells Sunday morning as the camp stirred to activity to a nippy fall morning. In one corner, a guitarist sang as he strummed a tune, while other volunteers walked around with boxes laden with breakfast snacks.

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"We need more toilet paper," yelled out one of the overnight campers to the organizers prioritizing supplies.

Much of the noon-time general assembly was also supposed to focus on logistics, spokesperson Eric Wilson, a 26-year-old farmer from Peterborough, Ont, said before the meeting.

"We are going to plan our marches for the day (and) organize clean-up," Mr. Wilson said, pointing to the few cigarette butts littering the park's green turf. "And we need to figure out what we are going to do tomorrow (Monday) when Bay street is open. I think we should occupy some of the banks, and when we get kicked out, come back here."

The Occupy movement participants have expressed their disenchantment with a corporate system that they say favours a small but vastly wealthy elite one per cent and disregards the 99 per cent of the masses.

Although there was some concern among protesters that the camp would be raided by Toronto police overnight or early Sunday morning, the police – most of them on bicycles – only circled the block's perimeter and occasionally rode through the park.

"I've been hearing that they (the police) might kick us out tonight, but so far the actual message we are getting is that we're doing a good enough job patrolling on our own and keeping things safe and clean," said one of the security crew who did not want her name used.

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Two arrests were made Saturday night in Toronto.

Police confirmed the two men arrested Saturday evening near Commerce Court building, at King and Bay streets, were headed to the Occupy Toronto protests.

The men, one of whom was carrying a hammer, were detained by the building's security for trespassing and later turned over to the police, said Const. Victor Kwong.

Joel Bokhaut, 32, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, and Franz Steinweg, 24, was charged with failure to comply.

The movement, which began in cities across Canada Saturday, was inspired by the month-long Occupy Wall Street protest south of the border.

Yesterday's protests were peaceful, a marked contrast to the riots that stemmed from last year's G20 demonstrations in Toronto and the aftermath in Vancouver when the NHL's Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final last June.

The demonstrators themselves were just as varied as the demands they voiced. Occupations in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver featured a mixed bag of youth, seniors, activists, families with young children, union representatives and even some pets.

Ian Lee, a Carleton University business professor who has been following the Occupy movement ever since it began in New York in mid-September, said in an interview Saturday that he doubts the Canadian protests will develop into a long-term movement.

"I think there's a greater chance, a higher probability of some type of political mobilization coming out of these movements in southern Europe or the U.S.," he said, adding that the financial situation in those countries was far more dire.

"I just don't sense the same sense of deep-rooted anger and frustration and fear that I see in the United States and for that matter in Southern Europe."

With a file from The Canadian Press

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