British Columbia

Occupy protests gearing up for several B.C. cities

Organizers in Nanaimo are the latest in B.C. to announce plans for an Occupy gathering this Saturday, as the number of rallies in cities around the world continues to grow.

Organizers in Nanaimo are the latest in B.C. to announce plans for an Occupy gathering this Saturday, as the number of rallies planned for cities around the world continues to grow.

Demonstrators are pledging to gather in Diana Krall Plaza in downtown Nanaimo at 11 a.m. PT on Saturday. Similar protests are already planned for Nelson and Kelowna, Victoria and Vancouver.

The protests have been inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York where protesters have been camped out for a month protesting the financial practices that they say led to the global economic crisis.

They blame corporate greed and political influence for increasing poverty, unemployment and homelessness around the world.

Since then the idea has spread to an estimated 1,500 cities around the world including at least 15 across Canada, with many planning events for October 15.

Police presence planned

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement on Friday morning saying while he respect the protesters' concerns and their right to free speech, in light of the damage done at the recent Stanley Cup riots, police will be on hand to ensure the event remains lawful.

"In these turbulent economic times, I recognize and appreciate the concerns and angst that people, especially young people, feel about the economy, rising inequality, the environment, and state of the world right now. I fully support the right of people to demonstrate those concerns publicly and peacefully."

"However, we know from our experience with the Stanley Cup riots and the protests that marked the start of the Olympic Games that large gatherings can sometimes attract small groups of people determined to use these avenues for their own violent ends.

"Violence, whether against people or property, will not be tolerated and will only detract from those who wish to legitimately express their opinions."

The Vancouver protest is set to start outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, followed by a series of marches down Howe Street and to other downtown locations. A tent city might also be set up on the VAG front lawn on West Georgia Street.

Police are promising to react quickly to any criminal acts that might occur during the Occupy Vancouver protest and are asking people not to wear masks to conceal their identities.

"The VPD is encouraging participants not to wear masks and discouraging anyone around them from doing so," said Const. Jana McGuinness.

Police are also asking protestors to use cellphone cameras to capture any criminal acts, much like what happened during the Stanley Cup riot.  McGuiness says there will also be street cameras in place.

It is not yet known how large or how long the protests in Vancouver and other B.C. cities will be, or how many police will be deployed.

Last week organizers did meet with police and businesses in Vancouver were warned to be prepared for large protests this weekend.

Vancouver magazine sparked global movement

In Canada, unemployment, and home foreclosures have not reached the levels as they have in the U.S., leading many observers to question how relevant the concerns expressed in New York are for those living north of the border.  

But what is not well-known is that the movement can actually trace its roots to Vancouver.

This past summer the staff of Adbusters magazine reached out to the magazine's network of activists around the world with a social media campaign modelled on the popular protests in the Middle East that recently overthrew several dictators.

Watching the phenomenon come full circle has been both surreal and exciting, for Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn.

"I kept on wanting to go to New York, and now instead of me coming to the occupation, the occupation is coming to me," he said.

"This idea of occupying the iconic centre of global capitalism ... there was something magical about that right from the start, so I knew something very special would happen there on Wall Street, but I had no idea that it would spread to hundreds of cities all around the place and become this possibility of a global mind shift."

Growing economic inequality a key concern

Armine Yalnizyan, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says widening economic inequality is a global trend, even in Canada.

"There is a lot of economic growth that was happening before the recession, but increasing the gains are being concentrated in the hands of a small number," said Yalnizyan.

"A lot of people, especially in countries like Canada are not seeing the growth. And that's what we are all told we should be shooting for – more economic growth."

UBC law professor Joel Bakan says commercial airline pilots have been marching alongside nurses in New York, reflecting widespread concerns that corporations and wealthy individuals are controlling an increasing amount of the world's wealth and resources while wages and working conditions have been steadily declining.

"A lot of the wealth of our society, and not just the money, but the environmental wealth and the public good and what not, are being siphoned off into profit by corporations. And so it's really I think what people are asking for is a rebalancing," says Bakan.

"What unites all of these things is that people want to live decent lives, secure lives, lives where they have shelter, where they have a clean environment, where they have access to education, where they have access to healthcare, and they are not getting that in our current society," he said.

Meanwhile in New York on Friday Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a planned cleanup of the private park occupied by the Wall Street protesters was postponed after the park's owners received threatening calls from the city's elected public officials.

But In Denver dozens of police in riot gear herded protesters away from the Colorado state Capitol grounds, arresting about two dozen and dismantling their encampment.

With files from the Canadian Press