Occupy Wall St. comes to Canada

Protestors set up camp in a Toronto park


One of the first arrivals early this morning at Bay and King, the financial district launch spot for today’s Occupy Toronto demonstration, was a transgendered woman named Stephanie who parked her silver Dodge Dakota SLT pickup truck on the southwest corner, erected a hefty P.A. system, a microphone and stand, and began blasting dated top-40 hits at high volume into the gathering crowd. At one point, Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible”, from 1988, welcomes the arrival of young people in Guy Fawkes masks and skinny jeans.

Her sound equipment, pink Roots sweatshirt and skirt, as well as her wide shoulders and commanding style, evidently persuaded police and at least a few protestors to identify her as a principle organizer. Officers stopped on their bicycles to discuss with her the route the protestors would march. “We’re going to shut down a few streets and make some noise,” Stephanie told someone nearby. “They’re giving us no hassle.”

The corner had over a period of an hour or so become bloated with people—perhaps a thousand, but it was hard to tell. Not far away, a young boy, maybe 10 or 11, stood with his brother as the backdrop for a television reporter’s standup. The boy wore a black baseball cap perched backwards on his head; a tuft of blond hair popped out from the front. He looked healthy and middle class. “We are the 99 per cent,” his sign read.

“What time is it,” Stephanie asked someone. “Ten-thirty? I think we should start moving.” Another organizer with red hair said the idea was to wait a little longer. A young woman with dark hair strode up. “I just came back from Wall Street,” she told Stephanie, referring to the Occupy mobilization that for the past month has been headquartered in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, near New York’s financial district, protesting greed and inspiring echo movements across North America, including this one.

Stephanie approached her microphone and, her voice booming, greeted the crowd. “We’re going to share this mike today,” she told them. Suddenly, a stranger commandeered the P.A. system—an older man in a straw cowboy hat and grey mustache who began describing people eating garbage from the bins below a window at his home.

“Sir, sir, we’re using the people’s mike,” pleaded a younger man wearing a green top hat affixed with a luxurious red feather—the well-known environmental activist Dave Vasey. The man at the mike—Eddie Tilley, a 59-year-old unemployed carpenter—continued nevertheless. The younger activists standing behind him nervously began tapping Tilley’s shoulder. Someone cut the mike.

“Mike check!” one activist cried. “Mike check,” the crowd, now spread out across Bay Street, responded, in a strong and stentorian unison. This was the “people’s mike,” perhaps the Occupy movement’s most central custom. Someone takes the floor by crying “Mike check” and begins speaking in short bursts that are then repeated by the crowd in one voice, allowing others to hear from afar.

It was in this way—now that the floor had been taken by a core group of organizers—that it was announced the crowd would march three blocks away from the headquarters of the big banks on Bay Street to St. James Park, a piece of municipal greenery next to a church. St. James wasn’t perfect, as even Vasey admitted. “I mean, it’s close to the financial district,” he said in an interview, “which is where we want to be. But unfortunately, there aren’t many commons left. And you just can’t, in a strategic sense, go on private property, because you’ll get evicted right away.”

The mob crawled without incident north to Adelaide and turned east. This is a maniacally self-documenting movement: every second protester had a camera, many of them high-end shooters. Others carted tents and camping gear. Unions were well represented, the multi-coloured banners of big labour fluttering in the strong, cold winds and turning the crowd surprisingly grey. Meanwhile, Occupy Toronto marshals wearing orange arm bands directed the protestors, a display of good planning. “Arrest the 1%,” one sign read. “The only gay I hate is politicians sucking corporate cock,” read another.

In a departure from last summer’s G20 demonstrations, not one police cruiser was visible; instead, officers on low-key cycles monitored the scene. The occupiers set up in St. James. A logistics committee chose the location beforehand and signs of organization, including caution tape demarcating spaces like a clinic and media centre, were already visible by the time the crowd arrived. Within a couple of hours, the place had been transformed into a marketplace of left-leaning ideas, an accumulation of soapboxes, an activists’ trade fair.

Many of the participants here are veterans of earlier fights. Vasey is best known as the first person arrested at last year’s G20 demonstrations; he spoke of fighting against Canadian mining practices oversees and the environmental toll of Alberta’s oilsands. Other organizers have popped up in the periodic fights against Mayor Rob Ford. (“Save Transit City,” read the button on one of their backpacks. “Atwood For Mayor,” another proclaimed.) Anti-war demonstrators chanted near one banner. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents flight attendants locked in a battle with Air Canada, were particularly vocal, chanting and reading speeches near the street corner for hours.

In the park itself, many looked set up for a long stay. More than a dozen tents and tarps were erected and volunteers were handing already out food. Vasey says Saturday night will give organizers a better sense of how many plan to actually occupy the space. “But this is also about building the infrastructure to resist,” he says. “Don’t underestimate the power of the 1,000 plus cities that are doing this.”


Occupy Wall St. comes to Canada

  1. I’m very impressed with how matter-of-fact this article is.

    Whether you side with these guys or not, you should appreciate this kind of just-the-facts reporting regarding them.

  2. They kill money by printing. Thieves Depreciate pension accumulation.

  3. Life on credit is a stranglehold. It is time to understand.

  4. On page 18 of the “occupy Wall Street” article in your magazine it shows 3 Apple MacBooks sitting on a table. These are definitely not the tools of jobless poor demonstrators. These machines cost 2 to 3 times more than a pc or droid device. As an immigrant forced out of my country in 2002 for my race Canada offered opportunity, I arrived at 32 to start again, call it the North American Dream. I started in a plant in Manitoba, in 2006 I moved to Alberta and started my own business, my business now employs 7 Canadians including myself. Coming from Africa all I can say is people here have little understanding of greed and corruption. If you want to and if you will work the hours you can succeed, but if we feel entitled all we will be entitled to is to work for India, China and Brazil. People there are glad to earn $10 an hour, here we won’t work for less than $15 or $25. The protestors say they represent the other 99%, if they did there would be more of us with them. They definitely don’t represent me. I truly value my Canadian status and appreciate that unless I can be a lot more efficient and productive than Indian, Chinese people I too will have no job. 

    I will add I do appreciate the freedom of speech in Canada, I am glad to see that protestors can protest without dying for it. 

    • The protests make more sense and are more relevant in other countries. But we also need to make the point that we don’t want to head down the same road as these other countries. In a global economy, what happens elsewhere affects us, so we need to make it clear to those in power here to use their influence not just here but beyond our borders.

      I’m glad you chose to come to Canada and are employing others. Quite a few businesses – esp. the larger businesses – are choosing to export jobs to save on cost. Yes, people elsewhere will work for a lot less, but both expenses and standards of living are also lower. Canadian standards of living for all but the richest has been slipping; there are those of us that think it is worth fighting to try to preserve current levels and help other nations raise theirs, rather thn see ours be draged down to meet others’ just so the fat cas can get fatter (as the rapidly growing gap between richest and poorest amply demonstrates).

      I have been working for almost 20 years for a company owned largely by one o the richest families in Canada. By most measures, it’s a great place to work. But salaries aren’t great, and even those of us who work hard to keep the company growing and get top appraisals still are lucky these last few years if our top increases keeps even with the cost of living.

      Meanwhile, while our pay was frozen for one year and barely increased for several, the company increased dividends to stockholders and bonuses to senior execs.

      The CEO of our company makes between 300 and 400% more, annually, than I do – and I make a fair bit more than many in the company. There was no discussion of a freeze on pay or bonuses when ours were frozen. And while his compensation is quite high by Canadian standards, our company is international, with its HQ these days in NY; by American standards for a company of our size, his $20M+ salary is nothing remarkable.

      Inequity such as this is just one of the many problems that needs to be addressed. Debt loads of nations is another; the spendthrift policies of governments have compounded the greed and cupidity of the international financial sector.. Corrupt business practices is a huge one; we need to properly hold execs of rogue companies personally resoponsible for the damage they do; no more hiding their criminality behind corporate veils.

      Much of what Canadians are protesting involve entities beyond our borders. But that doesn’t mean we should just sit silent. To do so is to ask to be trampled underfoot.

      In the meantime, we need to take responsibility for what we can control: we need to curb our overspending, and we need to keep our own governments and businesses acting responsibly.

      So, on some issues at least, the protesters do speak for me. Their approach may be a little naive, but we have to start somewhere.

      • Really well said, KeithBram.  One little point.  We aren’t as bad off as a whole lot of places, but our income inequality is growing at a faster rate, even than in the United States.

        • Well, they’re protesting the system, and we have the same system here as elsewhere.

          • Canada is a socialist system.  It’s nothing like America.

          • The system is the same everywhere, and it has nothing to do with your political versions of economics.

        • Thanks 2Jenn!

          I touched on income inequality at the end of my 2nd para, but not as explicitly as you have. I’d meant to, but I guess that thought got lost amongst the rest of what I was trying to say. Thanks for making it clear.

      • Keith, I think you meant to say your CEO makes 300 to 400 times what you make.  If you actually meant 300%, that would mean you are making $5 or $6 million yourself, which ain’t too shabby, even if it isn’t keeping up with inflation.

        I’m a big believer that the top 5 guys in the company should have a salary no more than 40 time the average salary for the entire company (including its employees in China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, etc.).  If they want to make more, they should pay everybody more to maintain the 40x multiplier.

        30 years ago 40x was the going rate for CEOs.  In the last 10 years that has grown to 300x 400x or even more (counting bonuses and stock options.) Is my CEO contributing 400x more to the company than I am?  I don’t think so. 

        If the 1% protesters are looking for a single change that would address the wealth imbalance, legislate the 40x max.  If that means the CEOs need to go to another country to get a raise … good riddance.  I’m sure we could find somebody to do his (and it usually is ‘his’) job for $1 or $2M a year.  I know I’d give it a go.

    • Never heard George W. Bush described as a socialist before. 

      Removing all regulations on mortgages caused the housing bubble.

  5. I’ve never hoped for a early cold winter before now.

  6. The Spanish sang a German composition to side with Americans on an idea started by Canadians.

    I loves me some globalization…!

    Run time: 04:00
    “Embrace each other now, you millions! The kiss is for the whole wide world!”

  7. It’s a rapidly globalizing French Revolution aimed at the power-tie-wearing banksters who emptied the pockets of The People who trusted them rather than at snotty-nosed aristocrats but without, so far, the guillotines.

    Fortunately I have several used guillotines in my basement that I will gladly donate to the cause.

  8. I like that sign. “Say no to !” I can’t wait to see the “Say no to a general feeling of malaise” sign.

  9. I am completely confused by the media saying things like “they (occupy ____) are really getting thier point across…..!”
    Really what point would that be?
    As far as I am concerned as long as there are nicotine addicts in the demonstrations there is no addressing corporate greed. The tobacco companies are not only the greediest most humanity killing planet polluting corporations in the world they taught the rest of the greed machines how to enslave people to their product and how to lobby for silence in the government. Why isn’t tobacco on the dangerous chemicals list and illegal because of the tobacco industry so why is it in the protest? Is crack or booze allowed?

    Cigarette are product placement. When those folks are marching with cigarettes in their mouths it is not only free product placement it tells others that it is not a dangerous drug. If they can’t even organize themselves to have any boundaries then they mean nothing!

  10. If anyone has the time to stay in the park then they really aught to go find gainful employment. I mean really? Canada? You do know that the rest of the world think that our conspicuous consumption is the problem.If we won’t stop buying stuff from corporations then how do we expect them to stop making a profit.

    ou are the only one who can stop giving them your money. Buy local! Make that a movement.Get out of your car, stop smoking. support renewables. I mean really I think the occupy movement is just a bunch of people who want to point the finger at everyone else and say  that someone else should take care of us and the environment and the resources we just don’t want them to make money from it.

    I will bet you that most of these people are folks who smoke and who have little to do with their lives and have zero political or social analysis. They are the OCAP bunch and aging hippies and students who rightly do not want ot pay so much for school, that show up at every anti poverty rally and education protest and housing demo.

    Vote with your dollars. Boycott corporations that you don’t like. Sitting in the street looks silly especially without a point and smoking drugs. Can people do crack? Then why nicotine? It is a dangerous horrible drug that is killing people and making huge profit for a industry that is making a poisonous product with zero redeemable or socially positive qualities.

    What is the point they are making? I really want to know. What can we decide to get on the train or off the train? Who is running the show because so far I am underwhelmed!

  11. Macleans is for reactionaries,  I can;t imagine anything more passe than an out of date Canadian perspective.

  12. The Occupy movement in 65 countries and 950 cities is no small thing.  The nedia plays it down by saying it has no main theme or ideology.  They say there are many issues such as jobs, student loans, ecology, high executive pay and high thievery by banks.  All of this is true and many more however, there is a main theme which is the “unfair distribution of wealth”. 
    In the USA during 1980 the top 5% of the population owned 27% of the assets (economy) with the balance of 73% owned by the remaining 95% of the population.  By 2010 the 5% owned 65% of the economy with the 95% now only owning 35%.  This has put the middle class amungst the poor giving much more emphasis to the saying “the reich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
    If this continues it will result in much more violent demonstrations and eventually even revolution.  The time has now come to reverse this imbalance of the distribution of wealth back to what it used to be in the 60″s.  Even without a revolution the 5% will self implode when all its customers become poor and can’t afford to buy their products any more.  It is in their interest to reverse this trend as well.
    Either way this will come about and very soon.  All governments should listen to these protests.  Warren Buffet has.

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