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Montreal occupies “People’s Square”

by Sarah Deshaies October 16, 2011 67 comments
Montreal occupies “People’s Square”

Montrealers gathered in Victoria Square to protest corporate greed and financial inequality, among other issues. Photo by Navneet Pall

(CUP) – Montrealers have been arriving in peaceful droves since Saturday to protest financial inequality and injustice, and bring the Occupy Wall Street movement to the city’s Victoria Square or, as it may now be known, the People’s Square.
Occupy Montreal was one of 15 protests held across Canada on Oct. 15 that emulate the OWS movement in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, which is in its sixth week. As Zuccotti Park is in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, Victoria Square is a small, tree-filled green space in the midst of the towering Montreal Stock Exchange and several banking and corporate buildings.
While people began arriving and setting up on Saturday morning, the name change passed as a resolution at the general assembly held that afternoon. Jaggi Singh, a local activist, proposed the change as an effort to “decolonialize” Montreal, as the square was originally named after British monarch Queen Victoria.
The general assembly, the sixth in a series that began a few weeks ago, voted on a few resolutions. One speaker admitted that “democracy is complex; direct democracy even more so.” The GA passed a motion to set up two subcommittees: one to decide on individual actions conducive to the OWS movement, the other to suggest collective actions.
William-Jacomo Beauchemin, a philosophy student at Université du Québec à  Montréal, helped run the meeting and felt that the first GA of Occupy Montreal had gone well, though he admitted that the meeting could have run more smoothly.
“We’ll improve our methods of collective decision making, and that’s how we’ll make decisions and move forward,” said Beauchemin.
Nevertheless, a few hundred took up a peaceful march while the subcommittees met. With the police blocking off streets, the march wound up to Ste-Catherine St., a main artery for Montreal’s downtown shopping district, and continued west, ending at Concordia University.
The event was largely peaceful, drawing out a mix of individuals and groups: students, senior citizens and families with young children, as well as anarchist groups, Decolonize Montreal, immigrant rights groups, and labour groups like Canadian Union of Public Employees and McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association.
Like other OWS protests, there was no chief organizing body or one leader. A few volunteers helped grease the wheels, like Zena Antabli, a social science and mathematics student at CEGEP de Saint-Laurent, who spent the day scurrying around with a megaphone, organizing different services, and later facilitating the large GA.
“We helped organize the event,” she said. “But today, there are so many people now coming out of nowhere offering to bring food or get a tent. […] They want to get involved because they believe in change.”
Occupy Montreal had a lively atmosphere with live music, child-friendly activities, and a “département de bouffe” table where food dropped off by volunteers was handed out.
Ben Stewart-Smith, a writer, baked 12 loaves of Irish sourdough bread to bring to the demonstration when he came to meet up with his friends.
|Largely the reason I’m here is because I like to see public space being used for public use, as opposed to existing as pre-conceived notion of neutral space,” he said. “So something like this brings a human element back to design in the middle of downtown in a way, and it’s probably also the first time they’ve had a group of people outside the financial sector.”
Montreal police spokesperson Daniel Lacoursière said Sunday afternoon that no major incidents had taken place at the demonstration so far.
Protesters intend to continue to occupy Victoria Square, and GA meetings have been scheduled for every single day of the occupation.

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