01/11/2012 01:05 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Occupy Movement: Camps In Newfoundland, New Brunswick Brave Winter


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A large makeshift tent covered with layers of tarp is all that shields diehard Occupy protesters from the fierce winds that lash their seaside camp in St. John's.

Along with a part-time camp in Moncton, N.B., the shelter nestled into the corner of a harbourfront park in St. John's persists in Canada as part of the Occupy Wall Street uprising that swept North America last fall.

Protesters in major centres such as Vancouver and Toronto were evicted in November, while city staff in Fredericton dismantled a local camp last week.

"It hasn't been that bad," said a shivering Ken Canning, 19, who joined the St. John's protest against corporate power and social injustice on Oct. 17, two days after it started.

He has stayed through ferocious gales clocked at more than 100 kilometres an hour, a storm that dumped 30 centimetres of snow and frigid downpours. He has no plans to leave, and the City of St. John's says it won't force the issue unless there's danger or disruption.

"It's essentially camping in winter in the middle of a city," Canning said. "I've done it out in the woods."

Canning is holding down the Occupy fort with two other young men as various supporters come and go. They've relied on a portable toilet maintained by the local Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, water from an Anglican church and random donations of food and blankets. They shower and do laundry at friends' houses.

Propane, also supplied by the union, fuels a space heater and a cooking stove.

Canning is putting up with any discomfort to make a point.

"Our politics needs to change," he said. "Our politicians do not represent the voter. They represent their financial backers.

"They give lip service to the voters and then they turn around and backstab them."

Canning, who moved from B.C. to Newfoundland two years ago to live with relatives after his father died, has no contact with his mother, he said. Other family members either don't understand or don't agree with his views, he added.

Canning isn't fazed by that, or by those who downplay the Occupy movement as an aimless flare-up. He believes it has made a lasting mark.

"This has been the first time where we've had a global movement that has been willing to step up and actually point out what's been going wrong in our society.

"It's consume, consume, consume. Our society knows one word: More.

"We're spending billions on bombs and planes and prisons when there's people starving, there's people out of housing."

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe says the city respects the right of protesters to make a statement.

"So long as they are not a danger to themselves nor a danger to the public, and so long as they're not causing anything in the way of a public disturbance, then we have no issue with them being in the park."

O'Keefe listened to a recap of Canning's views on politicians.

"There's jaded politicians, there's jaded electricians, jaded plumbers and jaded doctors," he said in an interview. "But there are a helluva lot of good people in all kinds of professions, including political life, who are striving to make life better."

Canada is a privileged country with a democratic system that, while imperfect, is better than alternatives, O'Keefe said.

"When you look at other systems of governance that exist around the world, we're very, very lucky to live in the system in which we live."

Mathieu Bertin, 24, is continuing his Occupy protest by sleeping most nights in a one-person tent with a space heater outside the Aberdeen Cultural Centre in Moncton.

He spends much of his other time at New Brunswick Community College, studying computer game design and interactive software. He has a special interest in social networking, and believes the Occupy movement is here to stay.

"I see (it) becoming something in the future where we re-establish communities — true communities, where everyone involved is cared for," he said.

Bertin, a university graduate who worked as a janitor when he couldn't get a job with his arts degree, said he'll continue his protest for as long as real change takes.

"For as long as I don't see the kind of society that's necessary to counter the momentum of the greed and corruption throughout the world."

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