'This is the civil rights movement of our time'

Above: Many protesters successfully and peacefully stationed themselves behind an RCMP barricade on Parliament Hill during the Sept. 26 demonstration against the Keystone XL pipeline.


Oilsands protesters from across the country converge on Ottawa for a day of action

Briana Hill
CUP Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA (CUP) — An estimated 100 people were arrested on Parliament Hill Sept. 26 as hundreds of citizens from across the country descended on Canada’s seat of government to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and further development of Alberta’s oilsands.

Following a 10 a.m. rally around the Centennial Flame, waves of protesters began to peacefully scale the barricades set up by the RCMP on the lawn stretching up to Centre Block and sit on the grass on the other side.

“All together, there [were] over 30 waves of people that crossed this barricade and did a sit-in on the other side, and now one by one these very brave individuals are being arrested and processed by the RCMP,” estimated York University graduate student and oilsands activist Kimia Ghomeshi.

“I’m here today in solidarity with all the First Nations communities that are presently impacted by the tar sands and opposing the proposed pipeline that would come with the expansion of the tar sands,” she explained.

The action, or sit-in, was coordinated by several groups, including the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Canada and the Indigenous Environmental Network and was billed as a publicly organized, peaceful act of civil disobedience that drew citizens from all over the country.

“These people, the reason they’ve come here today is because they realize that we’ve come to a point where we need to escalate … all these actions we were taking before were being disregarded by the federal government, so it’s time for us to be more creative if we want change to happen,” said Ghomeshi.

University of Guelph student Cassy Andrew made her way to Ottawa to participate in what she called “an extremely important action.”

“The bottom line is that resources are being destroyed and depleted and once that’s done we can’t go back,” she said. “We’re risking the lives of billions of people, depleting a resource such as water, in exchange for oil, when we should be moving away from our dependency on oil.”

Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver released a statement on Sept. 26 supporting the Keystone XL pipeline with no mention of the protest.

“Canada’s energy sector is a cornerstone of our national economy and future prosperity … revenues to government from the upstream oil and gas sector in 2010 totalled more than $16 billion,” it read.

“That’s money that supports Canada’s quality of life — including investments in health care, infrastructure and keeping taxes low for Canadian families. Currently, Canada’s oil sands directly employ 132,000 people and account for hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs across Canada,” the statement continued.

“It’s a really, really destructive industry,” Carleton University student Espoir Manirambona said from the other side of the barricade. “I mean, it destroys more than it creates.

“I think most Canadians, the vast majority of Canadians, are already with us, and agree that we need a sustainable economy — green jobs, which we can leave behind for our kids, not jobs that are fueled by an industry [that] destroys the environment,” Manirambona continued.

Many speakers we featured throughout the day who hailed from communities directly affected by the oilsands.

“If people really listen to the stories of the people that are being affected by things like the tar sands and by climate change, then they’re not going to be able to just sit back and not do anything,” said Andrew.

“That’s why we’re risking arrest right now,” said Manirambona. “This is the civil rights movement of our time: climate justice.”

Photo by Briana Hill/CUP