'Occupy Canada' protest plans take shape
Toronto protest details murky amid online debates over transparency, media
Canadian cities are expected to get their first taste of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement this weekend amid questions about what reception the north-of-the-border version of demonstrations against corporate greed, wealth concentration and other grievances will get.
While the mass demonstrations enter their fourth week in the United States, it is unclear how much public support the Canadian events will draw — or how long the planned "occupations" will last.
Toronto and Vancouver, the two Canadian cities expected to attract the largest number of participants, are still coming to terms with June's post-Stanley Cup violence and the G20 summit protests in 2010 — two highly different crowd events that nonetheless triggered intense debate over how they were policed.
Organizers in Vancouver have called for people to gather at the city's art gallery on Saturday morning to form a base of operations, where marches on other downtown locations can be organized.
Student activists have told local media that they expect to occupy the site for several weeks.
In Calgary, activists have already set up camp on St. Patrick's Island ahead of the official event.
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The city said it will assess the Occupy Calgary camp on a daily basis to ensure there are no health or safety issues.
Similar events are also being organized for Montreal and Edmonton.
With just four days to go, details of the Occupy Toronto Market Exchange movement, which is encouraging people to gather somewhere in the city's downtown financial district, remain unclear.
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The movement has no self-described leader or spokesman, and a website purportedly set up as a forum for organizers has become a lightning rod for debate over transparency and distrust for the media and police.
The website features a graphic suggesting a focal point of the Toronto event will be Bay Street and York Street, but an exact location has yet to be announced.
Some of the website's forum contributors have expressed concern that disclosing a predetermined location would allow police to set up barricades and undermine the event's goals. But others have argued organizers should be as open as possible about their plans for the event.
"Transparency is our strongest suit," one commentator wrote. "We are the 99%. It will take time to get ourselves organized, so be patient. Listen to each other. Reign in that frustration. There is TONS of support out there, we can tap into it if we are open and genuine. And ALWAYS keep it non-violent."
Yet other online commentators on forums have suggested a "media blackout" over concerns the mainstream media would "white-wash" the movement's message.
The website says a general assembly will be held on Thursday evening at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education to reach consensus on Saturday's event.
Police petition urges restraint
Meanwhile, a petition to Toronto police posted online this week calls on the force to respect the rights of protesters to gather peacefully. The petition calls for the force to prevent a "repeat" of mass arrests conducted during the G20 protests in June 2010. The force and Chief Bill Blair have been heavily criticized for tactics used during the two-day summit, as well as numerous accusations of excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, as well as people caught up in demonstrations.
Iran weighs in on Occupy Wall Street
Iran's top leader said Wednesday that the wave of "Occupy Wall Street" protests reflects a serious crisis that will ultimately topple capitalism in America. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed the United States is now in a full-blown crisis because its "corrupt foundation has been exposed to the American people." Read the full story
"It is the responsibility of the Toronto Police Service to insure the safety of citizens, insure that individual rights are upheld and that property is protected, not to act as political agents on behalf of the current government," says the petition, which had received 275 online signatures as of Wednesday morning.
"Perhaps, if the Occupy Toronto actions go well, the rift between Toronto and its police that opened as a result of the 2010 G20 meeting can begin to heal."
Toronto police have been tight-lipped about their plans. Toronto police spokeswoman Const. Wendy Drummond said the force has prepared a "variety of contingency plans" for the event, but would not speculate on "what ifs."
"We are aware that this is being planned to happen here in Toronto and we do have a plan in place," Drummond told CBC News on Wednesday. "The bottom line is we're here to ensure public safety and a peaceful protest."
Officers in Vancouver's police media relations department were not immediately available for comment.
The Occupy Wall Street protests began on Sept. 17 when a few dozen demonstrators tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange but were turned out by police.
Since then, hundreds have gathered at their base at Zuccotti Park, not far from the exchange, while activists have shown solidarity with the movement in many U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Austin, Texas and Providence, R.I.