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Businesses take low-key approach to planned weekend corporate-greed protest

Police officers reach into a crowd of protesters to make an arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge during an Occupy Wall Street march in New York October 1, 2011.


Bay Street bankers and downtown store owners say it will be business as usual for them when activists converge on the city's financial district this weekend to protest corporate greed.

While protests during the G20 summit last year quickly turned violent as police clashed with demonstrators in the streets, officials don't expect a repeat of that chaos when the Occupy Wall Street movement comes to Toronto.

"There might be added security in some branches and in some of the bank towers, and additional steps if they become necessary," said Maura Drew-Lytle, spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association. "But we're not necessarily expecting any major disruptions."

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The protest is modelled on Occupy Wall Street, a mass demonstration in New York that has lasted more than three weeks and has so far been largely peaceful. Activists in Toronto say they'll occupy a public space near Bay Street and remain there to highlight the gap between the world's richest 1 per cent and the rest of the world.

The Toronto group has no official spokespeople, but those involved say they are planning for a peaceful protest. "Unquestionably we're going to have a family friendly demonstration," said Farshad Azadian, one of the protest's organizers.

Mr. Azadian said his concern is not that protesters will turn violent, but that police could use excessive force. "We don't want to see the mass arrests, the officers covering their badges, the way we saw at the G20," he said.

Toronto police have so far declined to comment on their plans for handling the protest. Spokesman Mark Pugash said Tuesday that police have several contingency plans available depending on how the protest goes, adding the force has a record of facilitating peaceful protest.

Property managers in the downtown core say they have been in touch with police to discuss security, but most Toronto businesses also appear to be taking a relaxed approach to the protests. Lindsay Bridge, the owner and operator of a McDonald's franchise on Front Street near Simcoe Street, said she isn't planning to do anything differently.

"We're not, because everything so far has suggested that the Occupy Wall Street protest [in Toronto]will be very peaceful," she said. "We are aware, we're on alert, but we're not changing our behaviour."

Still, one insurance company is recommending businesses take precautions. Julia Oosterman, a spokeswoman for Royal and Sun Alliance, said it's a good idea for businesses to have a continuity plan for employees in case their work is somehow interrupted by the protests.

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She also suggested businesses keep their lights on overnight and remove from the street anything that could be used to damage a building, including bicycle racks, garbage and paving stones.

"It sounds like it's going to be a peaceful protest, but it's important that businesses prepare themselves in the event that things go awry," Ms. Oosterman said. "We know there's a potential for this, we just had the G20. So let's make sure that as business owners and occupants of the downtown core, we prepare ourselves in the best possible way."

Some downtown businesses sustained extensive damage during the G20 summit, as a small group of protesters broke away from the crowd to smash store windows and torch police cars.

The BC Federation of Labour announced Wednesday it will join Occupy Vancouver protesters. While Ontario unions say they support the movement, they have so far been reluctant to formally join it, citing concerns they could override protesters' message.

"We're very conscious about barging in and saying 'the labour movement is here and we're taking over,' " said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. "We want to be respectful of their decision-making process."

Mr. Ryan said he has encouraged union members to take part and will attend the protest himself on Saturday. The OFL has also offered small-scale logistical support to protesters.

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