The global Occupy movement protesting social and financial inequality, sparked a month ago in New York City, arrived in Montreal yesterday as over a thousand people crowded into Victoria Square to begin the Occupy Montreal demonstration
Twenty other Canadian cities began their own occupations on Saturday in a coordinated start to the Occupy Canada movement.
Occupy Montreal began at 9:30 on Saturday morning as several hundred people arrived at the public square, located in the Quartier International de Montreal. The park is surrounded by the Montreal World Trade Centre and the Centre CDP Capital, the Montreal office of the Quebec Deposit and Investment Fund, which manages public pensions.
The number of participants increased to over a thousand later in the afternoon.
Demonstrators ranged in age and political persuasion; among them were striking McGill non-academic workers and the Air Canada component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Demonstrator Stacy Miller brought her five-year-old daughter, Myka, to the square.
“There’s so much wrong with society right now, and the inequality, and rich people getting richer and poor people getting poorer,” she said.
“I’m a mum, and I’m worried about the environment…and it’s something that everybody needs to start taking seriously for the future of our kids,” she continued. “I see this as so inspiring. The Occupy Wall Street people are so inspiring, and I want to be a part of it from here.”
Russel Spence, a 2006 McGill graduate in Computer Science and Physics currently working as a computer programmer in Montreal, came to the occupation because of financial difficulties his family faces.
“I’m well-off, I have a nice job, pays me well…but that’s not everyone, and I see a lot of my friends and family aren’t well-off,” he said.
Spence spoke of his mother, who has been a victim of wage freezes for several years, his siblings, who are struggling to find work after college, and his father, a Canada Post employee legislated back to work this summer by the federal government amidst the national postal workers strike.
“I see all these things happening and, like, I’m well-off, but the world’s falling apart and I need to come out here and kind of be part of the voice,” he added.
Not everyone at Victoria Square was in agreement with the issues at the heart of the occupation. Marco Lugo, a double major in Philosophy and Economics at Université de Montréal, said he agreed “with some points they say.”
Lugo disagreed with the sentiment that Canada and other rich nations were exploiting poorer countries around the world.
“I’m from Venezuela, I lived there 17 years of my life,” he said. “Venezuela is poor not because of rich nations like Canada but of its own damn politics of sharing too much.”
“It’s Venezuela’s own fault. They should just open up, open up like Hong Kong did, like Singapore did, and they’ll eventually reach us and even go further ahead [economically],” Lugo continued.
The afternoon’s activities culminated in a General Assembly (GA) at 3 p.m., where nearly a thousand demonstrators debated and voted on a variety of motions, ranging from procedural motions regarding organization to broader motions about political positions for the occupation.
At the end of the almost two-hour-long meeting, motions were adopted to create committees to organize individual and collective actions, to nationalize banks around the world, and to change the name of Victoria Square to “Place du peuple.” SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault attended the GA before camping in the Square that night.
“It’s rough around the edges, but it’s the first day,” he said. “I had initial doubts about the capacity of this to become something a bit more organized, but those doubts have been dispelled today.”
Pedneault said some of the motions drew inspiration from GAs at other occupations around the world, and also sought to encourage other occupations to adopt similar motions.
“What we’ve seen elsewhere, in other places like Occupy Wall Street, is that they form kind of subgroups of a General Assembly to do the more on-the-ground organizing. The General Assembly is more of a place for discussion on political positions,” he said. “It’s a way to build a movement and take a substance to this movement. I see it as positive.”
The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) maintained a visible presence around the square throughout the day, but did not intervene in the occupation. Traffic was able to flow normally around the square until the GA, when the SPVM blocked off St. Antoine Street, which runs through the square.
Olivier Lapointe, media relations officer for the SPVM, said the police would not interfere so long as the occupation remained peaceful.
“We have hundreds of demonstrations every year in Montreal. Only today, we have maybe five demonstrations happening. So you can see that the police are positioned around the square here, just keeping an eye on what’s happening, and it’s doing very good. Everyone’s quiet and behaving very good,” he said.
In an interview with The Daily on Sunday morning, after the first night of the occupation, Lapointe said no arrests had been made or tickets issued.
Occupying into the night
Alex Timmen, a U4 History student at McGill, was in the square Saturday night, but said that he would not be staying over. He added that he and his friends were hoping to set up in the square at some point next week.
“I don’t have a tent yet… Hopefully by Friday we’ll have all the materials necessary,” he said.
“This is the first time I feel like I’m politically active as a citizen in Canada ever – and I’ve voted before – but this is different than the ballot box, this is direct citizen democracy happening and it’s really amazing,” he continued.
Over forty tents were pitched in the square Saturday night, with residents making plans for a long occupation. By Saturday evening, service tents were set up and functioning. Services provided in the square include a food tent, child daycare, first aid, and a communications and media station.
One man, who declined to give his name, described working at the first aid tent.
“Blankets, healthcare products like toothpaste, bandages. There’s a lot of stuff that we’ve received so far. We’ve received over probably 15 to 20 blankets only today, plus so much clothes. We still have some here and we distribute it all across camp,” he continued.
He said the occupation was “starting okay,” but that they still needed more blankets.
“We’re staying here. I’m going to stay here all week, all month if I need to,” he said. “I’m going to set up everything to be able to have a functioning home here. If I need electricity, I’ll manage to get myself electricity.”
Robert, a demonstrator who was working at the communications and media station, said they were trying to “facilitate the flow of information at this event.”
“[We’re] trying to schedule regular meetings of all the committees for sanitation, for cooking, for security, for information, for supervising websites,” he said.
“Right now we don’t have electricity,” he continued.
When The Daily spoke with Robert, he said they had roughly an hour of battery life left on their laptop, which they were using to send messages to people asking for donations of blankets and food, as well as for the services of people with specialized skills.
Robert mentioned an ultimatum delivered by the SPVM for demonstrators to stop drumming and playing music after 11 p.m. or risk eviction from the square. He noted that the police had been “very cooperative” all day.
On Sunday morning, Lapointe said he was not aware of any ultimatum regarding noise in the square.
“If anyone was asked to lower the noise, it’s possible, but I don’t know,” he said. “That’s the first questions I’ve had about that.”