Occupy Montreal protesters camp out at Victoria Square
MONTREAL - 48 hours after they started their occupation of Victoria Square, hundreds of people are still camping out in the urban park.
The widespread movement started by the Vancouver-based magazine 'Adbusters' that first took root in New York City on September 17, 2011, has spread throughout the world, and this past Saturday demonstrators planted themselves in Montreal.
Those who have spent the weekend camping out in tents say they want to challenge corporate greed and social inequality, and were inspired by the 'Arab Spring' revolutions that took place this year.
"This is very promising in terms of the potential for social change, the possibility of impacting the structures that rule our society," said protester Barbara Legault. "We saw the revolutions in the Arab world. They managed to kick dictators out, and I think that inspired millions of people around the planet."
Variety of grievances
Unlike the month-long protests in New York which have focused on the power wielded by banks and larger corporations, some interviewed by CTV Montreal were inspired by such issues as native rights, access to education, the tar sands in Alberta and the occupation of the Palestinian territory.
Some protesters cited decisions by the Canadian government as a key grievance.
"The workers that were forced back to work at Canada Post, the workers who were forced back to work at Air Canada, or whether we're talking about students who are facing tuition fee increases in Quebec of $1625. All of these protests all come down to the same thing," said Fehr Marouf.
Local demonstrators said they were inspired by matters close to home, including the McGill strike, and allegations of corruption in the Charest government.
"We might be inspired by what's happening out there - Occupy Wall Street and everything - but, I mean, we have issues here," said one protester.
Another said he was inspired to join the protest to denounce political decisions that undermine the collective wealth.
"Wealth is not shared fairly, it goes to multinationals, the costs are socialized and the profits privatized," said Jason Keays, who works for a bank in the credit card fraud division.
He said that allowing the free market to control Canada's natural resources undermines attempts to fund the social net.
Another demonstrator said that he's hoping that his participation could help mobilize change.
"I've been following politics, finances and the economy for many years and I've just been sitting around complaining, it's time to act," said Frederic Carmel.
Protesters flood downtown streets
Hundreds of protesters flooded Ste. Catherine St. downtown Saturday evening as they moved the Occupy Montreal demonstration from Victoria Square to the streets.
Starting New York a month ago with Occupy Wall Street, thousands of people have demonstrated for a mass of causes linked by economic disparity. Similar protests took place across Canada and throughout the world Saturday.
"Our inability to express ourselves through the traditional avenues of political expression have basically made this necessary," said activist Maxwell Ramstead.
Students, unions, homeless people, artists, drummers and people of all sorts gathered Saturday morning in Victoria Square to send their message to the rich and powerful in Montreal and Canada. Many who pitched tents and plan on staying for days.
"I'm here until this ends," said activist Sarah Soifer.
A kitchen and daycare have been set up; protesters say there is an area designated for small children, who represent the future. Square Victoria was renamed by protesters "The People's Square," after a general assembly vote.
Fed up with corporate greed: protesters
Calling themselves the 99%, protesters say something must change given high unemployment levels, the lack of a social safety net, and multi-millionaires paying a lower percentage of income taxes than people earning just thousands of dollars a year.
"I think the change is happening right now," said Ramstead. "If you walk around and listen to people talk, people who have never met before are exchanging ideas and realizing that they're not alone with their discontent with the system."
Police keeping watch
Police made no move to remove the protesters and did not say if or how long the protesters would be permitted to stay camped out to make their point.
Police presence was kept to a minimum.
"We're making sure that everything goes well. We're very happy so far with how the people are behaving. We hope that it's going to stay that way," said Montreal police Const. Olivier Lapointe.
The protesters stressed that there is no leader to their collective, which can pose a problem for police.
Police said they usually speak to the leaders of a movement to get an idea of what the group intends, but that is impossible in this case.
They said they are ready for anything at the protest, which began at 9:30 Saturday morning with about 4,500 people listed as "attending" on the Facebook event. The event began with about 200 protesters and swelled to a height Saturday afternoon of easily over 1,000 as speakers assembled at a general rally.
Violence of any sort would not be tolerated, said Montreal police Sgt. Ian Lafreniere.
"We hope that people are there… to protest in a peaceful demonstration, and that won't be a problem at all," said Lafreniere. "But if someone is there to commit something criminal, we won't be patient with that and that is not welcome at all."
Montreal police Const. Olivier Lapointe said there was a heavy police presence on hand Saturday, but that the demonstration was calm and non-violent, unlike a similar demonstration in Rome, where police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters.
No arrests have been made in Montreal, but police are keeping a close watch on the situation.
"We cannot get into details about our strategy, about what we're planning, but one thing is for sure-- we're going to still be here as long as the demonstration is happening," said Lapointe.
It remains to be seen if the protesters will attempt to remain in the square.
With a file from The Canadian Press