Climate Protesters to Trudeau: Stop Tar Sands Expansion

Activists are trying to push Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a stronger stand on climate issues.

New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will face climate protests as he takes office

Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces calls to take a stronger stand on climate issues. Credit: Reuters

New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first full day in office will be greeted by hundreds of climate activists who plan to gather at his residence in Ottawa starting Thursday. The protesters will urge the new leader to take an aggressive stance on global warming—starting with halting the expansion of the Alberta tar sands.

For the next four days, demonstrators plan to march a quarter-mile to 24 Sussex Drive and stage a sit in at the official residence, risking arrest for trespassing. Organizers say it will be the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of the Canadian climate action movement.

"Prime Minister Trudeau has yet to define himself as one thing or another on climate change," said Cameron Fenton, an organizer with the environmental group 350.org who is helping arrange the protests. "Meeting a 2 degree target [for global warming] means leaving 85 percent of tar sands in the ground... We need a government that is going to take bold and decisive action on climate change."

The event is being organized by 350.org, the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and other environmental, civil and indigenous groups.

Trudeau's Liberal Party took control of the Canadian government in late October after a stunning parliamentary election upset. Trudeau and the Liberal Party support a national carbon pricing plan and have promised to work with Canadian provincial leaders to create a climate action strategy. The new prime minister has even invited the provincial leaders to attend the December climate treaty talks with him in Paris.

But environmentalists have criticized Trudeau for not providing more detail on how he plans to accomplish those goals. The new leader is also supportive of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which he has called "important energy infrastructure."

Production in the Alberta tar sands, the world's third-largest oil reserve stretching nearly 55,000 square miles, nearly doubled during Stephen Harper's nine-year tenure leading the Conservative government. Harper led a systematic dismantling of Canada's climate agenda during his time in office, slashing funding for several climate research facilities, firing government scientists and muzzling others, weakening dozens of environmental regulations and undermining international climate treaty talks.

Slumping global oil prices have shaken the country's economy over the past year, and calls to expand and diversify Canada's energy portfolio and employment base became campaign issues.

Organizers of the protests say stopping the continued expansion of the oil sands is the obvious place for Trudeau to start to both boost Canada's economy and fight climate change.

"When you find yourself in a hole like this, the first rule is simple: stop digging," the event's website says. "This is literally what we need Prime Minister Trudeau to commit to. Freeze the expansion of the tar sands and commit to a justice-based transition to a clean energy economy. No huge new mines on top of the ones that already scar the landscape, poison the environment and violate Indigenous and treaty rights—it's already big enough. Instead, build a just, clean energy economy that works for people and the planet."

The protests plan to present Trudeau with "gifts" every day upon their arrival to the residence, including copies of scientific reports, signatures on petitions to stop tar sands drilling from the past 10 years, and a set of solar panels, which organizers hope Trudeau will install at 24 Sussex.

Trudeau announced soon after his election that he will not be moving into the official residence for a few weeks because of renovations being done to the building. Organizers decided to keep the protests there because Trudeau will still be at the building for important meetings and summits.

The demonstrators are being briefed on the legal risks they will likely face by trespassing on government property. A team of lawyers will be on site, and organizers plan to launch a crowdfunding campaign to pay legal fees associated with protesters' arrests.

"We've rallied, we've marched, we've written op-eds, we've confronted politicians and still Canada has remained a pariah on the world stage when it comes to climate action," the organizers' wrote on their website. "We also know that we simply don't have time to wait three, two or even one year for a new government to get its act together on climate. We are ready to step up our mobilizations to demonstrate the urgency and immediate need for action in the face of a catastrophic global crisis to Canadian politicians."

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