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Occupy Vancouver camps out at art gallery

A man holds up a protest sign at the Vancouver Art Gallery as thousands of people participate in the Occupy Vancouver protest on October 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. )

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images/Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Ask protesters why they pitched tents outside the Vancouver Art Gallery and you'll hear a variety of answers. Economic inequality. Corporate greed. Social injustice. Environmental degradation. Student debt.

For all the manifold reasons that brought them to Occupy Vancouver, one thing is certain: they're here to stay.

"As long as it takes," said Amanda Wood, a 24-year-old University of British Columbia student who brought her textbooks along with her sleeping bag and tent.

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It's a frequently repeated phrase among protesters, who hope the movement picks up momentum in Canada as it has in the United States.

"I'm here because I feel it in my heart that this is the place to be," Ms. Wood said. "Our biggest strength is going to be the community that comes out of this."

About 100 people spent a chilly night camped outside the night before. The "tent city committee," one of the many small groups organizing the protest, has been trying to ensure campers are safe, sheltered and fed, by collecting donations of tarps and food.

The campers are mostly students and activists – and even some who already live on the street. But a handful of families with children also spent the night, Ms. Wood said.

By Monday evening, protesters gathered at the art gallery had dwindled to about 200 from the over 4,000 who rallied on Saturday, the first day of the demonstration.

Dan Richardson, a speaker at the protest's daily general assemblies, said he wasn't concerned by the smaller turnout.

"My understanding is that this is exactly what happened in New York," Mr. Richardson said. The numbers dropped off in the Occupy Wall Street protest at first, but support began to grow over time, he said.

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All of the Occupy protests have been criticized for being leaderless and unfocused. In Vancouver, signs hanging around the gallery square decry everything from the Keystone XL pipeline to Canadian bank bailouts and corporate farming. The "consensus model" means that general assemblies often take several hours before agreements are reached.

For most protesters, the lack of a unifying purpose isn't a problem, but an important part of the movement.

"People are displeased with a whole lot of things, but they all stem from the same system," said Karen Stote, who dropped by the art gallery for the general assembly. "At least everybody has a voice here."

Groups of police, security personnel and firefighters continue to monitor the demonstration. Constable Jana McGuinness said the Vancouver Police Department would maintain a visible presence in order to "keep the peace."

"There is no official end date, as we all know, so we'll maintain our presence there to ensure that it's safe for all who come down there and who are staying and camping there right now," she said.

There have been no arrests or incidents of note. Constable McGuinness could not say what the cost of policing for Occupy Vancouver had been so far.

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At the general assembly, some protesters complained of "security issues," including a laptop being stolen and someone passing around a fake donation basket.

Occupy Vancouver is not the only demonstration shutting down streets in the city. Speakers urged protesters to support the rally against the Pickton inquiry taking place one block away at Georgia and Granville.

William Prest was among the several dozen Occupy Vancouver attendees who joined the Pickton inquiry protest. Families of missing women held quilts with photographs and names embroidered on them while an aboriginal drumming circle formed in the centre of the street.

"If Occupy [Vancouver]isn't affiliated with them, we should be," Mr. Prest said. "There's only one way we're going to change things, and that's by standing together."

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