(Ottawa) – On September 26, hundreds of people from across North America gathered on Parliament Hill for a rally followed by a mass civil disobedience sit-in. Participants responded to a call to action for a large peaceful protest where many risked arrest to tell the Harper government they don’t support his reckless agenda and urge him to turn away from the tar sands and build a green energy future that promotes climate justice, respects Indigenous rights and prioritizes the health of our environment and communities.
“It is morally justifiable to risk arrest if you see and witness a crime occurring or about to occur. We are saying the tar sands industry is unlawful. We need to stop it before the damage is done. It’s worth getting arrested to send that warning out to the rest of Canada,” said Louisette Lante, a housewife from Waterloo.
More than 200 people risked arrest on Parliament Hill in the largest climate-related civil disobedience action in Canadian history. Over 100 participants were released with a trespassing ticket. Those arrested included Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians), David Coles (CEP), Tony Clarke (Polaris Institute), Keith Stewart (Greenpeace) and George Poitras (former Chief of the Mikisew Cree). People came from all walks of life and regions in Canada to participate in the Ottawa action against the tar sands. Among the 200 people arrested, the youngest was 19 years old and the oldest was 84. The group was tremendously diverse and included a social worker, a plumber, a biologist, an organic farmer, a doctor, a student, a stay at home parent, and many others. Participants came from almost every province and territory.
The action began at 10 a.m. with a solidarity rally in front of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill featuring a number of speeches from prominent individuals from environmental organizations and Indigenous communities directly impacted by the tar sands. Following the speeches, waves of participants separated from the solidarity rally and chose to risk arrest by participating in a peaceful sit-in near the front doors to Centre Block.
“The tar sands represent a path of broken treaties, eroded human rights, catastrophic climate change, poisoned air and water and the complete stripping of Canada’s morality in the international community, said Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Our communities should not be sacrificed on the alter of Canada’s addiction to dirty fossil fuel; we want a new economic paradigm that protects our relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth.”
A broad spectrum of people at Parliament Hill supported the action including grandparents, elected and grassroots Indigenous leaders directly impacted by tar sands operations and pipelines, students, workers, environmentalists and union representatives. Environmental and Indigenous organizations along with a dozen Canadian celebrities and prominent individuals have endorsed the call to action.
“I’ve spent more than a decade writing reports about the benefits of a green energy and asking politely for action on climate change, while tar sands companies worked the back rooms and pollution levels went up. I’m here today to send a message about the urgency of stopping the tar sands and building a green economy in a way that can’t be ignored,” said Keith Stewart, Ph.D.