Occupy Canada rallies spread in economic 'awakening'

Canadian organizers are revving up their plans for Occupy Wall Street's global action day Saturday, part of a movement that some experts say has the potential to trigger a major shift in the thinking of governments and corporations.

Canadian rally sites in Global Day of Action expand to at least 15 cities

Canadian organizers are revving up their plans for the Occupy Wall Street-conceived global action day, the most adventurous idea yet for a movement that some experts say has the potential to trigger a major shift in the economic thinking of governments and big corporations.

The number of Occupy Canada cities for Saturday's rallies has grown to at least 15, while the international total is now more than 1,500. At least 20 cities also have Facebook pages dedicated solely to the movement.

As of Thursday noon ET, Occupy Canada's Facebook page garnered more than 12,000 "likes" and more than 17,700 people were "talking about this." Offshoot Occupy@ cities include Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, several other cities in B.C., Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Edmonton, Calgary, Saint John, Moncton and St. John's.

Leading up to Saturday, the various Occupy Canada cities are firming up where their efforts will take them through so-called general assemblies. Organizers are keeping a low profile, calling the day of action "leaderless" and "non-violent," with few going by name and most posting information on Facebook and Twitter. 

Charlottetown college student Marlee Cameron, for one, feels the grassroots movement to bring "structural change to P.E.I." is so important that she has sent her message to the media.

Some cities participating in Occupy Canada events Saturday:

Ontario: Toronto, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa.

B.C.: Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops.

Alberta: Edmonton, Calgary.

Quebec: Montreal.

P.E.I.: Charlottetown.

New Brunswick: Moncton, Saint John.

Newfoundland and Labrador: St. John's.


"I just don’t understand why in a country where we have so much, there are so many people who have to choose between having a roof over their head or eating," Cameron says in a news release that adds the Charlottetown event is 2-4 p.m. in the park adjacent to Province House.

Katie Harris, a doctoral student who has recently moved back to P.E.I. and is also involved in the Occupy P.E.I. movement, adds: "We want to come together to say that in a world of such wealth, there is no need for such economic disparity. There is no need for so many people to go without."

A CBC News online survey asking Canadians if they plan to attend Occupy Canada protests is drawing emotional responses.

"The vagueness of the reasons for these protests indicate to me that a lot of people are frustrated and dissatisfied with the status quo within government and big business for many different reasons," says Littlegoose. "If government and big business brush off these many concerns, they're only going to make matters worse. When people hear that others are raising their concerns  no matter what they are — they're likely to join in and support 'the cause.' This could be the beginning of something big."

But byebyeunions weighs in: "No I can't go — I have a job. If I don't go to work and pay my taxes, all the welfare bums protesting will starve."

The Occupy movement is becoming so widespread that is being taken seriously by economic and democracy analysts and watchers.

Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, told CBC News on Thursday that if the Occupy movement gets enough support from citizens, as well as influential business heads and government leaders, it could lead to important changes, albeit not overnight.


Is the protest relevant in Canada? Take our survey.

"This is an awakening. The Occupy movement, if it succeeds, is like a kind of second chance to have that conversation we didn't have [in 2008 amid the recession]," Yalnizyan said from her Toronto office.

"Civil rights [protesters] and feminists changed societal thinking. If this [Occupy] movement turns into a real movement, it will change our thinking about the relationship between the rich and the rest of us."

The Occupy Wall Street movement began Sept. 17 with an encampment that continues today in the financial district of New York City. The movement grew out of an idea last summer by the Vancouver-based non-profit group the Adbusters Media Foundation, which was inspired by protests that toppled governments in the Middle East.

Occupy Wall Street protesters argue government bailouts in 2008 left banks enjoying huge profits, amid high unemployment and job insecurity, and that the richest one per cent of Americans have huge fortunes and are taxed at a lower rate than the average person.

Yalnizyan says the protests on Wall Street are just as relevant in Canada, adding that the richest one per cent in Canada took one-third of all income gains in the decade preceding the recession.

The Adbusters Media Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver. It says it's "a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age."

The foundation publishes a magazine that challenges consumerism, and has launched international campaigns including Buy Nothing Day, TV Turnoff Week and Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street was first publicized July 13, with Adbusters encouraging people to take part in a "worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics," modelled after effective uprisings such as those in the Middle East, including in Egypt's Tahrir Square.

"The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America," Adbusters said in launching the occupation of New York City's financial district on Sept. 17.

Among other demands, the movement seeks to have U.S. President Barack Obama ordain a presidential commission "tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington." Read more.

In her blog, she says, "Canada's rich could make a difference. Our governments should ask them to step up to the plate.

"Occupy Wall Street is partly about Wall Street, and Bay Street, and taxes," she writes. "But it's mostly about getting governments to serve the interests of the other 99 per cent."

Democracy group urges specific demands

Duff Conacher, founding director of Democracy Watch, a non-profit citizen advocacy organization based in Ottawa, is watching the Occupy Canada movement with great interest, saying it has a potential for change if done the right way.

"Peaceful demonstrations where lots of people come out and express their concerns are always a good thing in a democracy, but they’re better if the demonstrators have specific demands that they want action on," Conacher said in an interview with CBC News.

"It is easy to be an activist. It’s not very easy to be an effectivist and actually effect change. You have to do your research, find out problems and the actual solutions, and activate that in strategic ways.

"Specific demands are more likely to corner decision makers and policymakers and force a response: 'Yes or no. are you going to do this?'"

Specifically,  Democracy Watch suggests that ralliers should support the 15 key measures endorsed for the past decade by 140 citizen groups across Canada rather than 'reinventing the wheel."

The measures include:

  • The creation of civilian watchdog agencies to oversee corporate activity in each economic sector.
  • Increased financial and legal penalties for corporate illegality.
  • Expanded protection for whistleblower employees.
  • A requirement that corporations must legally represent not only the interests of shareholders, but also those of their employees, customers, and society and the environment at large.

"The government is reviewing the Bank Act and other financial institution laws over the next year, so the window of opportunity is open now," notes Conacher.

The Wall Street and other U.S. occupations have been largely peaceful, but have led to numerous arrests —  including 100 in Boston on Wednesday. Given the riot-plagued G20 summit in Toronto in June 2010 and the Vancouver riots in June following the Canucks' Stanley Cup loss, certain Canadian cities are on alert to heighten police presence and security for businesses.

Conacher says peaceful demonstrations are important in successfully getting the messages across.

"History has shown if you use violence or unjustifiably inconvenience people, you will lose support," he adds.