'Occupy' protest hits downtown Vancouver
Large, well-behaved crowd, say police
More than two thousand people gathered in downtown Vancouver on Saturday for 'Occupy Vancouver,' a protest rally against financial inequality.
The protesters — including union members, environmental activists, housing activists and families — assembled outside the Vancouver Art Gallery and held a series of marches throughout downtown Vancouver.
The protest is part of a global protest movement over the growing disparity between the rich and poor that began in New York City and hit several Canadian cities over the weekend.
In Vancouver, protesters joined the movement for a variety of reasons, and many said the event was about much more than a single issue.
"I don't think there's one specific thing that people are saying — is it financial, economy, is it social housing, is it job creation?" said demonstrator Shabeer Ibrahim.
"I think what's happened is we've come to this crossroads where all of a sudden we're sitting here looking out and saying: 'We are demoralized' ... I think the voice is here, this community of people getting together saying, 'We don't want this anymore. It's time for a shift.'"
'Building a community'
Jessie Rockley brought her young son to the rally, saying she participated for him and the future generations.
"We're all out here to support this movement to ensure a better future for our children and we want everyone to know that this is about building a community, this is about bringing our families together and finding some unity," she said.
NDP MLA Shane Simpson also attended the rally.
"I'm very sympathetic and supportive to the key issue here, which is dealing with the question of inequality," he said.
"It is real, it is growing and I think we're seeing a lot of people here wanting to reverse that trend and that's a positive message."
Community activist Wendy Pederson said Vancouver desperately needs a social readjustment.
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"In Vancouver you see high-end condos in this city and there are still people sleeping on the streets and in shelters and don't have social housing. That is a complete crime," she said.
"There's a $25-million home being built in Point Grey right now, and meanwhile people are living in the worst squalor imaginable in my neighbourhood."
Greg D'Avignon with the Business Council of British Columbia admits there is a divide.
"We have very high debt and very high housing prices in the Lower Mainland," he said. "That puts pressure and strain on families that are trying to get by, but we have jobs in some parts of the province that we can't fill right now."
But D'Avignon said what's needed to address the divide between the rich and the poor is dialogue.
"It's not us versus them discussion and I think that's where it's frustrating in the United States," he said. "It has to be: how do we work together to achieve our full potential in B.C.?"
While there was a strong police presence at the event, Vancouver police reported a large but well-behaved crowd.
"What's interesting is the number of marches already. There was one main march that was in the neighbourhood of 2,000 people. and it was very long," said Const. Jana McGuinness.
"The tail end of it was at the Vancouver Art Gallery, when the front end was down to Hastings and back up to the art gallery, so that is a big march. They have also splintered a little bit which keeps up busy as well."
McGuinness said police made no arrests, and there were no serious incidents to report.
"Occupy" protests were also held in several other B.C. cities, including Victoria, Kelowna, Nanaimo and Nelson.
With files from The Canadian Press