Anti-globalisation activists will gather in Montreal on Tuesday for the first World Social Forum (WSF) to be held in the northern hemisphere, hoping the location will provide fresh impetus for the movement.
A march through downtown Montreal is to kick off the event, which was first held in Brazil in 2001 seeking to promote alternatives to neoliberalism.
More than 50,000 members of civil society groups, social movements and others are expected to attend the six-day event.
'Social inequality is everywhere'
"We're hoping to gain momentum by bringing the forum to a northern country like Canada," which is also a Group of Seven industrialised nation, said one of the organisers, Raphael Canet.
"Social inequality is everywhere," he added. "We want to overcome North-South divisions and say clearly that there are social problems worldwide, and also global solutions."
Born out of violent protests as a counterweight to its capitalist rival, the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland, the WSF aims to offer a space for decentralised debate and an exchange of ideas, as well as the coordination of global campaigns.
Past annual conferences held in Mali, India, Pakistan and Tunisia have attracted up to 100,000 delegates each.
Only half that number are expected for the Montreal event, however, as many could not afford the trip and relatively pricey accommodations, even with financial assistance, according to organisers.
They said the Canadian government also denied travel visas to 234 delegates, preventing them from attending, including Mali's former culture minister Aminata Traore and Imad Temiza, the president of the Palestinian postal union.
Officials declined to comment on specific cases, citing Canada's strict privacy laws.
Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for the immigration ministry, said the department reached out to WSF organizers to facilitate delegates' entry into Canada.
But she said in an email to AFP: "No contact has been made with the special events unit by the organising committee to inform the special events unit of any issues or difficulties in obtaining participants' visas."
As a result, eight out of 10 delegates at this year's event will hail from the host city and nearby Quebec communities.
'WSF running out of steam'
Dominique Plihon, spokesman for the non-governmental organization Attac France, concedes the WSF is struggling after 11 gatherings over 15 years.
"The WSF is running out of steam and is in desperate need of renewal," he said, while refusing to give up on the symposium.
"We will always need an international meeting, we must create international movements. The idea here is to create visibility, to make people aware of alternatives (to hegemonic globalisation)," he told AFP.
Organisers said they chose Montreal to host the forum this year also because of the city's vibrant civil society, and as a nod to the Occupy movements in North America and Europe, and Montreal activists' involvement in those.
"Montreal really appeared on the social movement map in 2012 with the student protests ... that brought down the Quebec government," said Raphael Canet.
Tuesday through Sunday, representatives of 5,000 civil society groups will take part in workshops, debates and performances across Montreal.
Topical themes include fighting tax evasion, environmental degradation, the plight of refugees and struggles against racism, xenophobia, patriarchy and fundamentalism.
Some 80 lecturers including university professors, leftist politicians, trade unionists and anti-globalisation activists are scheduled to speak. They include Canadian activist Naomi Klein, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and French philosopher Edgar Morin.