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Occupy Vancouver hits the waterfront, but doesn't close it

Rolling blockades failed to win backing of the union movement that protesters support.

Occupy Vancouver demonstrators jam truck traffic at Port Metro Vancouver entrance Monday. Photo by Will Campbell.

Truck traffic into Port Metro Vancouver was disrupted for more than an hour Monday afternoon as Occupy Vancouver marchers blocked off an access road, a move organizers hoped would bind the movement closer to the unions that publicly shunned the blockade protest.

A crowd of around 70 people streamed from Callister Park near the old Pacific National Exhibition grounds down to the port's Commissioner Street entrance -- a busy destination for tractor-trailers weighed down with lumber and other export commodities.

Truckers couldn't make their usual turn into the entrance but other entrance points remained open to them, a port official said.

Organizers said the march had several goals, some of which were referred to in the variety of slogans and chanted messages relayed by protesters on a day when ports up and down the west coast saw similar Occupy demonstrations meant to impact trade at the shipping centres.

Marchers' concerns included what they called the erosion of dockworkers' labour rights, a planned Burrard Inlet port expansion to ratchet up the volume of tanker-loaded tar sands bitumin and other efforts by Lower Mainland ports to boost volume.

They also said people and communities affected by port operations need more say in how the facilities are run, charging that environmental and labour concerns are getting sidelined.

"This is about people exercising their power in order to have a say in the decisions that affect us," said Erin Innes, who spoke to the crowd about a six-month-old lockout of Teamsters workers at rail tour provider Rocky Mountaineer.

While other port protests along the Pacific Ocean aimed to completely shut down trading centres, Occupy Vancouver aimed for simpler targets: raising public awareness of port-related issues and repairing the movement's ties with labour groups that have backed Occupy from its launch -- including the province's biggest labour body, which said last week the blockade was a bad idea.

"What we've seen with the B.C. Federation of Labour not supporting the action is we do have more work to do building dialog and building solidarity between the Occupy Vancouver movement and the unions and the general public," organizer Maxim Winther said.

"And so we're going to continue that dialog, which is why Occupy Vancouver scaled back" full-scale shutdown plans, he said.

"No port expansion" read the largest banner carried to and from the port by demonstrators. "No consent? No Pipeline. No Tankers" said another. Chants of "Whose ports? Our ports" rang out as the crowd moved towards the waterfront.

The lunchtime protest followed a morning blockade that saw a small break-off group of Occupy protesters stand in front of two entrances used by longshoremen and other dock workers to get to work, blocking automobile traffic but allowing pedestrians through.

The action was timed to coincide with a shift change at the port, said Winther, who added that the 7 a.m. blockades were done by "Occupy associated" individuals not sanctioned by the movement.

The afternoon march began when protesters marched along McGill Street before turning onto onto Commissioner Street at about 1 p.m. Police motorcycles cleared road traffic ahead demonstrators while a protester-played drum and set of maracas livened up the march, which was festive and friendly.

More than two dozen foot police were awaiting the group as they descended from a port-access overpass onto a stretch of road taking them within eyesight of port traffic booths. Officers stood in a single row across the street, halting the march's forward momentum. Five were arrested over the course of the day.

Keeping with the decentralized decision-making process that is a staple of the Occupy movement, marchers then brainstormed ideas on what to do next -- one suggested, jokingly, a game of duck-duck-goose -- before deciding, after less than 30 minutes halted in front of the port, to hit reverse and go back to Callister Park.

The port entrance was closed for just over an hour due to the march, far short of the 12-hour blockade initially promised. Dozens of trucks passed by the entrance during the closure, and the crowd let out a cheer when an organizer announced that 50 had been diverted.

Peter Xotta, a vice-president with Port Metro Vancouver, said hundreds of trucks use the port every day.

But it wasn't immediately clear how many were turned away due to Monday's blockades, he said.

"Some of those trucks would have returned their loads to other locations or taken alternative routes into the port's facilities," Xotta said.

"My understanding is that all of the trucks that were intending to come into the south shore today to access the marine facilities did so, by one access point or another."

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