Jail Before Climate-Wrecking Tar Sands, Canadians Say
More than 200 Canadians engaged in civil disobedience, with 117 arrested in Canada’s quiet capital city on Monday. The reason? To protest the Stephen Harper right-wing government’s open support for the oil industry and expanding production in the climate-disrupting tar sands.
The normally placid and polite Canadians shouted, waved banners and demanded the closure of the multi-billion-dollar tar sands oil extraction projects in northern Alberta to protect the global climate and the health of local people and environment.
“People are here because they know that if we don’t turn away from the tar sands and fossil fuels soon it will be too late,” Peter McHugh, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Canada, told IPS.
“The tar sands are unsustainable. Canadians are willing to shift away from fossil fuels but our government isn’t,” Gabby Ackett a university student and protester, told IPS as she stood in front of a long line of police.
In what was proudly touted as “civil” civil disobedience, protesters aged 19 to 84 were arrested for using a step-stool to climb a low barrier separating them from the House of Commons, the seat of Canadian government. The police were friendly and accommodating because the organizers had promised there would be no violence.
“We live downstream and see the affects of tar sands pollution on the fish and the birds,” said George Poitras, a former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta.
“Some our young people have rare forms of cancer,” Poitras told more than 500 protesters.
“Expanding the tar sands is not the way to go in a world struggling with climate change,” he said.
Carbon emissions from the tar sands production have increased 300 percent since 1990 and, at 45 to 50 million tons annually, are greater than most countries. And that does not include the carbon contained in the oil itself.
When burned, the 1.6 million barrels of oil that are extracted every day will add 346 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere this year alone. That’s almost the entire emissions of the country of Australia. The oil industry is making billion-dollar investments in the tar sands to more than double production by 2025.
Currently nearly all tar sands oil is exported to the United States. Canada imports 700,000 barrels of oil from Algeria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to supply the eastern half of the country.
“Canada’s energy policies are dictated by the energy industry,” said Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a large environmental NGO. The Harper government turned its back on Canada’s international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions of climate-disrupting carbon, she told protesters.
“I’m willing to be arrested because I love my grandchildren,” said Barlow.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, a senior official in the Harper government, called protesters “extremists” in media interviews.
After four years as a minority government, the Stephen Harper Conservatives were recently re-elected for another four years. However, even though the Conservatives received less than 40 percent of the popular vote, they now have the majority of seats under Canada’s multi-party parliamentary system.
“If a government refuses to represent the people, then there is little choice but civil disobedience,” said Barlow, who was arrested later.
This was Canada’s largest ever civil disobedience action on climate change, organisers told IPS. It follows two weeks of protests in front of the White House in Washington DC at the end of August over the proposed 3,100-km Keystone XL pipeline to ship tar sands oil from northern Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast so the oil can be exported to Europe and Asia.
Climate scientists have said there is so much carbon in the tar sands that if most it is extracted and burned, there is no chance of stabilizing the climate. The primary and undisputed cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels. The science clearly shows that global carbon emissions must decrease before the end of this decade or humanity will face dangerous climate disruption, where billions suffer the effects of an ever-hotter world, with mega droughts, mega flooding, and mega storms.
However, in Canada, trillions of dollars are being invested in proposed pipelines like Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and others so that the tar sands production that produces the most- carbon laden form of oil can increase, said Barlow.
“Billions of dollars of oil money is being taken out of our country,” said Melina Laboucan Massimo from a Cree First Nation community in the tar sands region and an activist with Greenpeace.
“But in my community we still have no running water,” Laboucan Massimo told protestors in front of the House of Commons.
“This is not the House of Corporations behind me. Our government is supposed to represent and protect its people,” she said.
“Bitumen (tar sands) workers are against building the Keystone and other pipelines,” said David Coles, president of communications with the Energy and Paperworkers’ Union of Canada (CEP). The labour union sees the pipelines as shipping thousands of oil processing jobs to the U.S. and other countries. Tar sands bitumen is a heavy, dirty type oil requiring special processing before it can be used.
CEP acknowledges the climate and environmental impacts of the tar sands are unsustainable, CEP representative Patty Barrera told IPS. “We want a just transition to sustainable green jobs,” Barrera said.
That’s what Canadians also want, said many of young and older people who assembled in front of the House of Commons Monday. Some had never been to a protest before. Deliberately breaking the law for these ordinary Canadians required a great deal of courage and conviction.
“I feel inspired and empowered doing this,” one older woman said just before she climbed the barrier.
“The real crime here was the tar sands,” said another older woman as she approached the barrier and the police. “Civil disobedience is the only way we can change this,” she added.