Occupy Canada: Protesters Planning 'Large Impact' Event For Monday Stock Exchange Opening
TORONTO - After spending their first night camped outdoors in protest, Canadians who gathered to decry corporate greed and social inequality used Sunday to hammer out their action plan for the coming week.
Many taking part in the Occupy Canada movement braved crisp autumn weather to spend the night at parks in various cities including Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.
As the sun rose over protesters camped in Toronto's St. James Park, one demonstrator said the day would be spent making decisions via consensus.
"Today's going to be a major day for planning a large impact for Monday as a demonstration for (when) the Stock Exchange opens," said Niko Salassidis, a 20-year-old who set up the Occupy Toronto Facebook group.
"We plan to make a very large statement."
The Occupy movement, which began peacefully in cities across Canada yesterday, was inspired by the month-long Occupy Wall Street protest south of the border.
Demonstrators are speaking out against what they see as a corporate system which favours a wealthy elite but disregards the masses, or "the 99 per cent."
Salassidis said the details of next week's actions would be spelled out in a general assembly planned for later in the day. Protesters in Toronto plan to march through the city's financial district as it comes to life Monday morning, he said.
The protests across Canada have been orderly so far, marked by cordial relations between police and demonstrators — a sharp contrast to the riots that erupted during last year's G20 demonstrations in Toronto and following Vancouver's Stanley Cup loss in June.
"The Toronto police department is starting to prove themselves," said Salassidis. "I don't think anything's going to happen at all, they're very nice."
In Edmonton, protesters had initially been on edge as rumours circulated that police might clear demonstrators and their tents from their downtown camp site late at night but no action was reported.
Local demonstrators had more pressing issues as they tried to secure porta-potties for the camp.
"Right now, we're worried about short-term problems," said Bryan Hyshka, 21, a volunteer at the camp's food tent.
The web designer added many of the protesters had to be at work on Monday, so it was unclear how many would be available to continue the protest during the week.
"Personally, I'm planning on staying until Monday. After that, I'll be back and forth during the week."
It was a similar situation in Halifax where it wasn't known just how long protesters gathered in a downtown park would stay on.
"We're not going to put an end date on it. We're just going to see how it goes," said 25-year-old demonstrator Ryan McKenna.
"We want to build a little community here and we want to engage and experiment in direct democracy."
That experiment has already come with some growing pains as the leaderless Occupy movements across the country find their feet.
Protests in various cities spent much of Saturday schooling participants on the movement's general assembly meetings where decisions are made by consensus.
The demands being voiced under the umbrella of the Occupy Canada movement are numerous. While many have been calling for a stronger economy and more jobs, there have also been demands for stronger environmental standards, less privatization of health care and opposition against local projects.
The demonstrators are just as varied as their demands. Occupations in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have featured a melange of youth, seniors, activists, families with young children, union representatives and even some pets.
The Canadian turnouts were part of a series of global rallies sparked by the movement that began in New York.
That international element is a significant factor, said one Canadian observer who pointed out that despite its vague and sometimes contradictory demands, the Occupy movement called attention to the volatility of the global economy.
"I take this movement quite seriously," said Queen's University finance professor Louis Gagnon. "I think it's an opportunity for us all to think very, very hard about what is happening."
Given Canada's stronger financial record in comparison to the United States and debt-ridden parts of Europe Gagnon didn't expect the protests to have the same traction as they could south of the border.
Still, he warned that Canada would not be immune to the economic problems plaguing other countries in the age of global trading and said governments and corporations would do well to listen to the most basic concerns of those protesting.
"It will not take very long for all of this to hit our shores," he said. "There's no need for a brand new economic system, nor do we have any alternative, but we need collectively to reflect on what is going on and seek to make improvements."
As protesters vowed to make their voices heard loud and clear when markets opened Monday, Gagnon said he thought political leaders, banks and business leaders would be paying attention.
"You can't ignore people, you have to be sensitive to the issues with which they are confronted, especially at this juncture because we are having difficulty, the economies of the world are showing signs of further weakness."