Occupy Canada protests persist as work week begins
NDP frames House of Commons debate around nation-wide movement
Canada's Occupy movement continued on a smaller scale Monday, following a weekend of national protests that swept through more than a dozen Canadian cities after spreading from the U.S., where anger at Wall Street has inspired global activism in some 80 countries.
In Toronto, about 100 protesters were on the move Monday evening.
The group, accompanied by police monitoring the situation, briefly blocked traffic at Bay and King streets, before heading north to the intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets, one of the city's busiest intersections.
The crowd staged a sit-in at the intersection for about an hour, blocking most vehicular traffic but letting Toronto Transit Commission streetcars through.
Protesters arranged themselves so they spelled out "99%" when viewed from a news helicopter hovering overhead, in reference to the Occupy movement's claim that the richest one per cent is benefiting at the expense of the other 99 per cent.
Earlier, 200 marchers had headed to Ryerson University's campus for a meeting of the protest's so-called general assembly, a hallmark of the original Occupy Wall Street protests in which speakers engage in democratic decision-making.
As the work day began, a splinter group of about 30 people from the Occupy Toronto group calling themselves Occupy Bay Street moved to the city's financial district. The sparse group of demonstrators, outnumbered by members of the media, brought signs to the Toronto Stock Exchange and sang Rockin' in the Free World as office workers made their way to the bank towers. Some business people stopped to chat and sympathize with activists, saying they understood their frustrations.
Occupy Canada protests sprang up in more than a dozen cities on Saturday. Here's a breakdown of the estimated crowd sizes in some of the weekend demonstrations:
Vancouver: 4,000 people on Saturday in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Calgary: 400-plus at Bankers Hall, with a camp set up at St. Patrick's Island, west of the zoo..
Edmonton: 1,000 estimated to have marched downtown Saturday, with a tent city set up at Jasper Park.
Saskatoon: 200 at a rally at Friendship Park, with dozens spending the night at a camp.
Regina: 100-plus in a Saturday march in Victoria Park.
Winnipeg: 400-plus downtown, with dozens camping outside.
Windsor: 100-plus Saturday near city hall.
Toronto: Between 2,000 and 3,000 in the financial hub.
Ottawa: Hundreds at Confederation Park on Saturday.
Montreal: 1,000 on Saturday, with 85 tents set up at Victoria Square.
Halifax: 300 on Saturday at Grand Parade Square.
St. John's: 50 people near the waterfront amid wet weather.
Charlottetown: 125 people outside Province House.
Elsewhere in Ontario, 10 tents were pitched in a park next to Windsor City Hall. About 125 protesters had demonstrated in that city on Saturday and 15 people slept overnight on Sunday.
The Canadian Occupy groups take inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has been staging protests in New York for more than a month. The protests, which generally claim to be leaderless, are inspired by a grassroots movement that has spread around the world and features demonstrations against global financial inequality and corporate greed.
Groups in several Canadian cities camped out over the weekend.
NDP adopts language of protesters
During question period in Ottawa on Monday, the NDP attacked the government, adopting the language of the protesters who say the richest one per cent are benefiting at the expense of the other 99 per cent.
Conservative MP Ted Menzies, the minister of state for finance, deflected attacks from both the New Democrats and Liberals on the government's support of corporate tax cuts, with critics framing their argument in the context of the protests.
"People are sick and tired of seeing their leaders always taking the side of big business with billions in tax cuts," NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel said in the House of Commons.
Menzies, in response, said Canadians have it good compared to the situation in the U.S., and should be appreciative.
"Canada does not, by the way, have the degree of inequality that we're seeing in other countries that have perhaps started this movement," Menzies said. "We have a very progressive tax system that favours the vulnerable in this country, and we have a social system that supports the unemployed, Mr. Speaker. We have a universal health care, there is a great deal of difference that we put in front of Canadians, offer to Canadians, that they should be thankful for."
Manley calls Canadian protesters 'wanna-bes'
John Manley, president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, representing over 100 top Canadian CEOs, called the one per cent versus 99 per cent argument "ridiculous."
"In Canada, I'm inclined to think that a lot of the protesters are kind of wanna-bes, aping what they're seeing in the United States and Europe," Manley, a former Liberal MP, told Evan Solomon on CBC-TV's Power & Politics.
He said that the protests are less relevant in Canada because public money was not used to prop up the banking system, and unemployment rates are lower than in other G7 countries.
"The message that I take [from the Occupy movement] is that in Canada it's not that big, not to say that it can't grow, but the messages are pretty hard to decipher. It's fairly incoherent."
About 250 gather in Montreal
One of the larger regional movements in Canada was in Montreal, where around 250 protesters had gathered Monday morning at Victoria Square. Around 85 tents had been set up under the trees in the middle of the square, with police keeping a watchful eye but remaining tolerant. A few handed out bagels, warm beverages and chocolate bars.
Some business people heading into Montreal office towers were also reportedly supportive of the activists, with one woman donating money to the Occupy cause at a donation table set up to feed campers remaining at the site.
A donation tent was also up at Ottawa's Confederation Park, where about 75 people had camped out downtown in about 20 tents. Many didn't rise until about 9 a.m., as the weekend's cold and rainy weather persists in the capital.
'Impressed with Edmonton'
In Halifax, about 25 tents were set up in Grand Parade Square, across from city hall.
"I'll stay here as long as I need to stay here to see a difference," said Kevin Holloway, who spent the night wrapped in a sleeping bag while keeping watch over the other campers.
In Vancouver, an estimated 4,000 people took part in Saturday's protest. A smaller group of roughly 400 people had gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday.
About 20 people who braved the autumn chill overnight camped overnight in Winnipeg's Memorial Park, where nearly 400 protesters had marched over the weekend.
Recent high-school graduate Kristi Loeb said that for her, the demonstrations boil down to demands for change.
"In any way that it takes form," said Loeb. She cares about social justice issues and wants to speak out against corruption and greed, she said. "From the general public changing the way they think about things, or just taking the time to learn what the issues are."
Dozens in Edmonton also camped out overnight, with a mish-mash of students, labour union representatives and homeless people waking up together on Monday. Among them was Richard Fantin, employed as a software developer.
"I'm really impressed with Edmonton," said Fantin, a participant in the weekend Edmonton march who said he wants to "return the monetary power to the people."
Another Edmonton demonstration was planned for Monday at Canada Place, followed by another meeting of the Occupy general assembly, which could rule on a new location for the activists' campsite.
Rain in Halifax soaked cardboard signs and fell onto a dozen tents outside the Grand Parade at city hall, but a spokesman for Occupy Nova Scotia told The Canadian Press protesters would stay put.
"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 told the wire service.
The scene was more subdued in P.E.I. on Monday, compared to Saturday's protest kickoff in Charlottetown that drew a crowd of about 125 people.