FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The oilsands were the target Tuesday of environmental activists in Niagara Falls and northern Alberta on the eve of a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Two dozen Greenpeace members from Canada, the United States and France chained themselves to giant earth-moving equipment, shutting down Shell’s massive Albian Sands oilsands mine in northwestern Alberta for several hours.
The protesters placed giant banners on the ground reading, "Tarsands: Climate Crime."
On the American side of Niagara Falls, five people from the Rainforest Action Network unfurled a 21-metre by 12-metre banner reading "clean energy future" and "tarsands oil" with arrows pointing in opposite directions.
After a few hours, the protesters released the banner, voluntarily climbed back up to an observation deck and were taken into custody.
"Canadian tarsands oil undermines North America’s clean energy future," said protest spokeswoman Nell Greenberg.
In Alberta, both Shell and RCMP were eager to see a peaceful end to the demonstration as it stretched on through most of the day.
The company invited the protesters to unchain themselves and come to a nearby office to discuss their concerns. Shell also offered them food, water and bug spray.
"Shell’s view is to ensure the safety of these folks and to try and safely remove them from the site but respect their right to protest," said Shell spokesman Paul Hagel.
"I know they’ve targeted other oilsands operators in the past, so it might have just been our turn."
RCMP Const. Karolina Malik said the protesters were very polite, so there was no rush to cut the chains or make arrests.
"We need to make sure that we understand why they’re doing what they’re doing," said Malik. "There’s no need to respond in any kind of manner that doesn’t match the way that they’re responding to us."
But Greenpeace resisted Shell’s attempts to negotiate an end to the protest. Mike Hudema, one of the Greenpeace leaders who chained himself an earth mover, said they wanted to send a message to world leaders on the environmental damage being caused by giant oilsands projects.
"To send a very strong message to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper that climate leaders don’t buy tarsands," he said.
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