Protesters marched through the streets and filled the parks of several Canadian cities on Saturday, in demonstrations that evoked the spirit of New York's Occupy Wall St. movement.

The Occupy Canada campaign took hold in Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Fredericton, Moncton, Guelph, Windsor, Kingston, London, Nanaimo, Courtenay, Duncan, Kelowna, Kamloops and Nelson, B.C., Lethbridge, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Toronto.

Thousands of people took to the streets to voice an array of complaints and demands, from ending corporate greed to addressing poverty and violence around the world.

Mat Berkowitz, a spokesperson for the Occupy Vancouver protest, which drew about 2,000 people, said the Occupy movement reflects a growing awareness and concern over social and economic ills that plague not only Canadians, but people the world over.

"The broadest social problems around the world -- war, poverty, income inequality, destruction of the environment -- these issues are only getting worse," Berkowitz told CTV News Channel on Saturday afternoon. "And I think people's awareness has been heightened to the extent that they decided to unite around the world to express the discontentment for the social system at large."

The peaceful protests contrasted sharply with the violent riots that marked the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup loss last June and last year's G20 Summit.

The largest protest was in Toronto, where an estimated 1,500 Occupy Toronto demonstrators gathered in the financial district at King and Bay Sts. then marched east to St. James Park. A steady rain thinned the crowd to a few hundred people, who set up tents in preparation for an "occupation."

In an interview, protester Kate Heming said the plan was to occupy the park "through the winter." The protesters have made arrangements for portable toilets in the park, she said.

"We hope to see a peaceful protest," said Heming, an independent film producer who took part in the Occupy Wall St. protest in New York City last week.

Maura Drew-Lytle of the Canadian Bankers Association said downtown bank branches and corporate towers increased security in case of trouble but noted: "It's peaceful."

Cross-Canada Protests

Saturday's demonstrations attracted a diverse crowd of protesters, including teenagers, adults, retirees and young couples with children.

  • In Halifax, about 200 demonstrators set up tents in a downtown park. Joy Woolfrey, a 69-year-old international development consultant, said she was taking part "because the system is broken."
  • In Montreal, more than 1,000 protesters took to Victoria Square, in the financial district. Tents and coolers of food suggested some demonstrators were in for a long stay. Frederic Carmel, a 25-year-old office administrator, booked next week off of work to camp in the square over the "enormous inequality in the division of wealth."
  • Several hundred people rallied in Calgary, while dozens of protesters gathered outside the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg.
  • In Vancouver, protesters gathered in a one-block space outside the city's art gallery.
  • A spokesperson for the Occupy Edmonton march, Chelsea Taylor, said Alberta's oil industry dictates government policy. "Oil might run your car but it really shouldn't run your government," she said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have dismissed the movement's complaints, noting that Canada has weathered the world's economic crisis better than the U.S.

Speaking in Dawson Creek, B.C. on Saturday, Harper said his government was in touch with the concerns of most Canadians.

"The focus of Canadians is the same as the focus of their government, and that is we all know we're living in a global economy, where the recovery is extremely fragile," Harper said while attending an event at Northern Lights College.

"We know we're doing relatively well because we're focused on jobs and growth and on the needs of working Canadians families."

But the protesters say the gap between rich and poor in Canada is growing faster than in the U.S.

Among other issues, they decry poverty, tar-sands pollution and exploitation of Aboriginal people.

Despite hundreds of arrests, the protests across the U.S. have been largely peaceful, and those involved in planning the Canadian demonstrators insisted that they, too, would be non-violent.

Violence in Rome

The Occupy Wall Street protests have also spread around the world.

Supporters in Sydney, Australia, waved signs such as "You can't eat money" as they demonstrated on Saturday.

About 200 people in Tokyo joined in the protest, and Philippine supporters in Manila marched on the U.S. Embassy. Hundreds of people also joined peaceful protests in Hong Kong and Seoul.

In Europe, the movement is joining up with anti-austerity protests that have raged for months across the continent.

Police in Rome fired tear gas and water cannons as a protest march turned into a riot. Cars were burned and windows in banks and stores were smashed. It began when a small group of violent protesters broke away from the main demonstration on Saturday.

In Frankfurt, some 5,000 people took to the streets to protest in front of the European Central Bank.

Hundreds marched through the Bosnian city of Sarajevo carrying pictures of Che Guevara and old communist flags that read "Death to capitalism, freedom to the people."

With files from The Canadian Press