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Occupy Toronto taking place in Toronto's Financial District, Oct. 15, 2011. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail) (Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail)
Occupy Toronto taking place in Toronto's Financial District, Oct. 15, 2011. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail) (Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail)

Occupy protests under way across Canada Add to ...

Demonstrators gathered in Toronto's financial district to protest corporate greed have decided to occupy a park in the city's downtown.

The fast-growing crowd of Occupy Toronto demonstrators had assembled along Bay Street near the headquarters of a number of the country's major banks and the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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They now plan to march toward the nearby St. James Park, which features well-manicured gardens outside St. James Cathedral.

The decision was made after the hundreds gathered held a general assembly — a meeting where speakers' messages were distributed through the crowd via a human-relay system.

The Toronto occupation is one of several Canadian protests planned from St. John's, N.L., to Victoria, B.C., which have been inspired by the nearly month-long Occupy Wall Street movement.

Demonstrators are expressing their disenchantment with governments, which they say defend the interests of the elite and not those of the masses — what's called the 99 per cent.

The demonstrators in Toronto are a mixed bag of students, stay-at-home moms, union representatives and seniors, all chanting “we are the 99 per cent.”

The range of signs raised by those in the crowd demonstrate the multitude of demands being brought forward under the umbrella of the protests.

Some are holding placards calling for a better safeguarding of the environment, others are waving signs asking countries to put their people first, and still more are demanding better access for the disabled.

But all were expressing their abhorrence of what they call the greed of the vastly wealthy one per cent of the population.

Other Canadian cities slated to see protests include Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Fredericton, Moncton, N.B.; Guelph, Windsor, Kingston and London in Ontario; Nanaimo, Courtenay, Duncan, Kelowna, Kamloops and Nelson in B.C.; Lethbridge, Alta., Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa.

Chelsea Taylor, who is part of the Occupy Edmonton movement, Alberta’s oil industry is dictating government policy.

“Oil might run your car, but it really shouldn’t run your government,” Ms. Taylor said.

Those involved in demonstrations across the country maintain it is irrelevant that Canada has weathered the economic crisis better than the U.S. – as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have asserted. Instead, they argue the gap between rich and poor in Canada is growing faster than in the U.S.

Among other issues, they decry poverty, tar-sands pollution and exploitation of aboriginal people.

Despite hundreds of arrests, the protests across the U.S. have been largely peaceful, and those involved in planning the Canadian demonstrators are insisting they, too, will be non-violent.

Still, the police and protester violence of the G20 in Toronto in June last year and hockey riot vandalism in Vancouver four months ago are casting shadows over the Occupy Canada planning.

While Toronto police have been keeping a low profile, Vancouver police are warning protesters not to cover their faces.

On Friday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was confident Canadians would exercise their right to express their concerns appropriately.

“With that right comes a corresponding responsibility: To be respectful of others and the laws,” Mr. McGuinty said.

Mr. Harper called the situation in Canada “very different” from that in the U.S., saying there were no bank bailouts in this country.

Despite the approach of colder weather, protesters say Saturday will be just a start.

They say they plan to maintain their occupations for the longer term, just as those in New York’s Zuccotti Park near Wall Street are doing.

Brookfield, the Canadian-owned company that owns the occupied lower Manhattan plaza, backed off plans to clean it after protesters warned they would not leave.

The company also owns several landmark buildings in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, including Exchange Tower, the site of the Occupy Bay Street protest on Saturday.

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