Canadians ‘Occupy’ Toronto, Montreal in Wall Street Protests

Thousands of protesters gathered peacefully in Canadian cities, including Toronto and Montreal, joining the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that began in New York and have spread worldwide.

About 1,000 people gathered in the heart of Toronto’s financial district beginning at 10 a.m. local time to protest inequality and advocate higher taxes for the wealthy. About an hour later, organizers began moving the demonstration to nearby St. James Park.

“To see people take action like this is amazing,” said Neal Hamell, a student from London, Ontario, who traveled to Toronto today to join the protests. “I’d like to see change. If this doesn’t do anything, then something is wrong with the world.”

The demonstrations, along with similar events planned this weekend in cities including London, Madrid and Milan, aim “to seek and work toward drastic changes to economic systems that are destroying our economy,” according to a statement on the Occupy Toronto website.

Signs in Toronto carried messages such as “Nationalize The Banks!,” “CEO pay up 444% in 12 years. How about you?” and “We’re All In The Same Boat.” Others were protesting war, serial killers and hydro-electric costs.

Protests were planned in at least 15 Canadian cities, including Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg, Manitoba, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. website. The broadcaster didn’t report any incidents of violence.

World’s Soundest Banks

An anemic global economy, the European sovereign debt crisis and high U.S. unemployment among other causes have led to discontent among the protesters, who’ve vowed to occupy Wall Street for months. The demonstrations have spread to U.S. cities including Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver and Seattle.

Canada’s banks, which include Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Nova Scotia, have been ranked the world’s soundest for four straight years by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

“We don’t have financial institutions in Canada that failed, that cost taxpayers money,” Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said today in an interview on CBC Television. “The situation in Canada, thank goodness, is better than that and our unemployment rate is significantly better than that of the Americans.”

Bob Rae, interim leader of Canada’s opposition Liberal Party, was at the Toronto event, according to CP24 television. About 1,500 people gathered in Vancouver at the city’s art gallery, according to a local radio station report.

Toronto, Canada’s most-populous city, is also the third-largest financial center in North America, according to the Toronto Financial Services Alliance. The city houses 10 domestic banks, 129 securities firms and 60 life insurers, according to the organization’s website. The financial-services industry contributes 14 percent to Toronto’s gross domestic product, according to the TSFA.

Toronto’s financial district was damaged last year during a weekend of Group of 20 summit-related protests, which led to hundreds of arrests and left police cars burned and windows smashed.

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