Occupy The Square

Montrealers Set Up Camp in Financial District

Occupiers in Montreal’s Victoria Square say they’re prepared to remain there for a while. Photo Vincent Yip
Photo Vincent Yip

Cities across Canada have officially hopped on the Occupy Wall Street juggernaut, which has seen chapters spring up across the western world and as far away as Hong Kong.

Thousands of activists in Montreal took to Square Victoria at the steps of the Montreal Stock Exchange building Oct. 15. They set up tents, tarps and tables and have said that they are not leaving any time soon.

“Across the board, people are realizing that capitalism, as it [stands], isn’t working,” said Joanne Penhale, one of the occupiers. “I think the Canadian system isn’t as fucked up [as the American system], but when we’re talking about a global economy, we’re all in the same boat.”

“Canada has its own injustices, which will be coming out,” she continued. “Some, for example, want Quebec independence. It isn’t my thing, but it’s important to discuss.”

Penhale says that the movement is a work in progress and that it is unreasonable to expect such a wide variety of voices and opinions to have any sort of consensus just yet.

Occupiers wasted no time in setting up what will be their new home for the foreseeable future. While some were setting up tents and tarps to block the rain, which intermittently plagued the day, others were preparing meals to feed the occupiers.

“To sustain an occupation you need food because, well, everyone’s got to eat,” said William Ray of Food Not Bombs, one of the organizations helping with meals.
Other occupiers spent the afternoon distributing political flyers, playing music, making signs, and creating a carnival-like atmosphere that kept the spirits high throughout the cold and windy day.

Though the set-up in Square Victoria, renamed ‘Place du Peuple’ by its occupiers, is based on the original encampment in New York City, there are some dramatic differences. Occupiers in Montreal are allowed—at least for the moment—to use megaphones, to pitch tents and to blast music. At the time of publication of this article, there had also been no arrests of protesters.

“I’m here supporting the American Occupy Wall Street protest,” said Marco Montali, an owner and president of a pulp and paper business, dressed in a large yellow raincoat with ‘99%’ emblazoned on the back.

“We’ve got a long way to go to improve our situation [in Canada]. It could be so easy for us to slide downhill. If we’re not careful we could lose it all,” he cautioned.
Occupiers held a general assembly in the afternoon wherein everyone gathered around to try and sort out the logistics of the occupation and make plans for further action.

In a nod to the occupiers in New York City, the general assembly made use of the human microphone, which entails one person speaking in fragmented sentences which are repeated in unison by everyone close by so the people on the outside of the crowd can hear.

In the evening, hundreds of protesters took to Ste. Catherine St. and marched through traffic, stopping cars in the middle of the street. A police escort eventually joined the marchers who went to a Bank of Montreal building in the Old Port. While security guards prevented protesters from entering the building, they were not stopped from dancing and chanting “We are the 99 per cent” on the steps of the iconic bank.