Occupy Toronto: Protesters Splinter, Bay Street Action Fizzles
TORONTO - A call to make a big splash in the heart of Canada's financial district as the workweek began caused a few ripples early Monday but ended with some waves as Occupy Bay Street protesters clogged up downtown streets during the evening rush hour.
About a hundred demonstrators carrying placards and waving flags marched from their base in a downtown park to the corner of King and Bay streets before moving to Yonge and Dundas, where they sat in the middle of the busy intersection.
The protesters arranged themselves into the shape of a "99%" in the middle of the street, a reference to their belief that the corporate system favours the wealthy elite but disregards the masses, or the 99 per cent.
The march caused several road closures and transit delays.
Police escorted the protesters during the peaceful evening march, which came after a small morning demonstration near the Toronto Stock Exchange and a lunchtime march to Ryerson University for an event marking Social Justice Week.
Like their Wall Street counterparts, who took over a Manhattan plaza a month ago, the Occupy Toronto protesters decry a system they say serves only the elites.
Peter Poulos, 27, was one of only about two dozen demonstrators who turned up for the morning protest, saying he wanted to take a "proactive approach."
"(My girlfriend) says to me: 'You might be the only one down there,' and I be like, 'If I am, I'm proud of that'," said Poulos, who had called for a big march via Facebook.
"Not many people will ever do this."
Poulos, a York University philosophy major, said he wanted economic fairness and equality.
As he passed by the clutch of protesters on Bay Street on Monday morning, Scott Crone appeared bemused.
Despite reading up on the movement, Crone, who works for an insurance company, said he was still a bit confused by it.
"I've had a hard time hearing an articulate reason for what they're protesting," Crone said.
"I don't think the average person knows what (the demonstrators) are talking about."
What began a month ago as a few dozen people camping out in a small Manhattan park near the rising World Trade Center complex swelled to hundreds of thousands of people around the world this weekend, with numerous encampments springing up in cities large and small.
Hundreds of protesters mingled with bemused bank workers Monday in a new tent camp outside London's St. Paul's Cathedral. In Seattle, police arrested people who wouldn't move their tents from a park. And in New York, nearly $300,000 in cash has been donated through the movement's website and by visitors to the park, said Bill Dobbs, a press liaison for Occupy Wall Street.
But aside from Saturday's dramatic flood of thousands of people into the streets of cities across Canada, the movement north of the border — still in its infancy — has so far paled in comparison to its older, more robust cousin at the heart of the U.S. financial district.
Montreal protester Jean-Pascal Labelle admits the Canadian movement is not organized and has no demands to make of government.
"We need to get started by talking collectively, so I think that's what's important right now," he said Monday. "So the movement is going to grow and get more precise."
The Toronto protesters moved into St. James Park on Saturday, pitching tents, debating aims and procedures at "general assemblies," and attempting to get themselves organized.
After a cold, wet weekend, the sun broke out Monday morning over the park, a few blocks east of Bay Street.
As he sat on the park's gazebo, Zach, 22, said people had come together to talk about improving the system and that's how change would happen.
"It's not going to be by voting for the puppet on the left or the puppet on the right," said Zach, who refused to give his last name.
"It's going to be the people standing up and taking back the power."
Similar camps have been set up in cities across Canada.
In a rainy Halifax, a dozen soaked tents lined the periphery of the Grand Parade in front of city hall on Monday, as cardboard signs expressing frustration and anger lay limp on the ground.
James Green, a spokesman for Occupy Nova Scotia, said the protesters planned to stay for the time being to push their message of social justice and economic equality.
"We are all watching the other occupations take place around the world, and we know that we are going to face rain and things worse than rain," Green said.
Montreal demonstrators weren't letting chilly temperatures get them down as some 200 people have set up tents across the street from the Montreal Stock Exchange tower.
"People are still adding tents every hour," said Matthew Rytz.
He said the movement is not about fighting for one issue.
"It's about the state of the world," he said.
"People have the feeling that something is wrong and we have to get together to see if we can find solutions or at least see where we're going."
Across the country in Vancouver, where thousands protested on Saturday, the dozens of people still camped outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Monday said they were in for the long haul.
One of them, Ethan Painchaud, 19, suggested that blocking some of the city's main streets might further their cause.
"I don't agree with violence, but we do need to get attention," Painchaud said.
Glen Whitlock, 54, said he was there to ensure the protests don't get ugly.
"I'm willing to risk my well-being to stop the violence if it does happen," Whitlock said.
In Edmonton, protesters are staying at a private park owned by Melcor.
The company's CEO Ralph Young told CTV that his company has respectfully asked the demonstrators to leave the property by 10 a.m. Tuesday.
— With files from Terri Theodore, Peter Ray and The Associated Press.