Students engage in civil disobedience outside of prime minister’s home
A number of Mount Allison University students took part in demonstrations organized by 350.org, an online petition site. The demonstrations took place in Ottawa outside of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s temporary home, Rideau Hall, as well what is intended to be Prime Minister’s official home, 24 Sussex. Students delivered letters and water samples from the Bay of Fundy and Waterfowl Park.
All the students from Mt. A who joined the demonstration are part of Divest Mt. A, a group of student activists looking to push the university administration to take interest out of the fossil fuel industry.
The demonstrations spanned from Thursday, Nov. 5 to Sunday, Nov. 8. Students organized on the principle of civil disobedience without any threat of violence, said Alex Lepianka, third-year commerce student and Divest Mt. A organizer. “Those willing to risk arrest sat in front of 24 Sussex and Rideau Hall to show that they were not leaving and that their voices need to be heard and taken seriously,” said Lepianka.
“Each day had a different theme,” said Lepianka. “[The themes were] associated [with] gifts, including literature on the impact of climate change and Canada’s role in the damage that fossil fuel extractions are causing [as well as] treaties that have been violated.”
According to climatewelcome[dot]ca, the event’s website, environemtal impact reports were presented on the first day of the demonstration. The reports ranged from a scientific paper which confirms that 85 per cent of the tar sands are unburnable, to a report by 200 North American academics outlining the necessity of a tar sands moratorium, economic studies on carbon risks and documents identifying the climate impacts of pipelines like Energy East and Keystone XL. There was also a study outlining an increase of fatal diseases associated with the tar sands expansion in downstream indigenous communities.
Emma Jackson, Mt. A alumna and previous Divest Mt. A organizer, attended the second day of the demonstration. Jackson said the day was very youth-focused. “This is the world that we’re inheriting,” said Jackson, who said the youth involvement in this day was particularly important as it represented youth and youth-led movements.
On Nov. 6, a gift of one million messages was presented from various people across Canada against the tar sands and pipelines.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, the gifts were centered on the theme of water, and the presentation was led by indigenous women. Mt. A’s activists brought water samples from both Waterfowl Park and the Bay of Fundy along with notes from 46 students. The day’s demonstrations were also anti-pipeline focused. “[The pipelines] can’t exist if we actually want to ensure our waters and lands remain healthy,” said Lepianka.
The demonstration ended on Sunday on a hopeful note, said Lepianka. The prime minister was given a set of solar panels to install at 24 Sussex. Lepianka said the panels were left at Rideau Hall. Leaving these solar panels was done to show the hopeful transformation from a fossil fuel-dependent society, said Lepianka.
Many have critiqued the demonstrations as Trudeau has just been elected in the office, said Jackson. She agrees that it’s not fair, but said it was necessary. “Time is of the essence […] when climate change is such a problem,” said Jackson.
The demonstration was also planned before the election and was going to happen regardless of who had been elected, said Lepianka. “The idea was to let the prime minister-designate know that there are some serious obligations that need to be understood with respect to actual action on climate change, and leadership in transforming the Canadian energy economy into something that is sustainable.”