Written by Maryam Adrangi and Eriel Tchekwie Deranger.
A group of Canadian climate change activists – including RAN campaigner Eriel Deranger, and numerous members of RAN Toronto – caused a ruckus in Canada’s Parliament yesterday. In doing so, they brought their demands for bold action on climate change directly to the country’s leaders – and they didn’t stop until they were expelled from the Parliament building, with five of them being arrested and roughly dragged out.
During a Parliamentary debate, several protesters stood up in the House of Commons Observation Gallery and began chanting loudly, voicing their support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act.
This news video shows the reaction on the floor of Parliament while the protestors were chanting (skip to 0:50):
The observation gallery was mainly filled with youth listening to the Members of Parliament, who were bickering about pension plans. One activist stood up and yelled: “Canada needs to sign and ratify the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Security rushed over, grabbed the individual, and quickly escorted him out as another individual stood up and shouted: “Pass Bill C-311 and take action on climate change.”
As numerous individuals were being escorted out of the public gallery while chanting bold statements about indigenous rights and climate change, a third person stood up and began a call-and-response chant – and the vast majority of the public gallery joined in. “When I say ‘311,’ you say ‘Pass it.’”
The protestors then began chanting “311, PASS IT;” “INDIGENOUS, RIGHTS;” “CLIMATE, JUSTICE;” “SHUT DOWN, TAR SANDS;” and “WHO’S HOUSE? OUR HOUSE.”
A couple dozen individuals were escorted out of the gallery and asked to line up against the wall; however, after about 100 other youth kept chanting, they too were escorted out.
Over 150 youth were forced to leave the House of Commons public observation gallery, showing that Canadian parliament was not ready to hear a democratic voice. While escorting the youth out of the building, police violently arrested several of the protesters, dragging five people away and detaining them – including RAN’s Eriel Tchekwie Deranger and Dave Vasey from RAN Toronto. Blood was left on the walls and the hallways of Parliament after one protestor’s face was slammed into the ground. The rest of the protestors continued chanting as they were forced to leave the building, filling the normally quiet halls of Parliament with chants for climate justice and Indigenous rights.
A handful of individuals were met by the media just outside the parliament building doors, where Joe Cressy of the Polaris Institute explained what had happened inside. His sentiments were echoed by other protesters who expressed outrage at Canada’s inability to take any leadership role regarding climate change.
One participant, Rosa Kouri, said that while the Canadian government may not be ready for it, “our children will appreciate what we’re doing.”
Bill C-311 is the Climate Change Accountability Act, which would require Canada to agree to IPCC greenhouse gas reduction targets. If this bill were to pass, it’s likely that the government would also need to severely limit emissions from the tar sands, the fastest-growing cause of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. “In shutting down the tar sands, the Canadian government would admit that it is willing to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples,” said one activist.
Tar sands development is jeopardizing the communities, mainly aboriginal, living downstream from the projects. The projects are causing water scarcity and contamination, causing increased rates of rare cancers, asthma, and cardio-vascular diseases, as well as destroying First Nations communities’ ability to maintain their traditional ways of life.
It’s uncertain whether there has ever been a protest of this sort in the House of Commons, and yesterday’s protest was truly a milestone in the Canadian youth climate movement. This incredibly bold protest has been getting media coverage all of the country – on CBC, CTV, the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail, the Montreal Gazette, the Calgary Herald, and many more.
Canadian youth have been trying to show their disappointment with their government and their country’s disregard for international agreements, including those on climate change and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Many MPs who support climate justice have told youth that they need to be loud and put pressure on the government. Canadian youth as a group got closer to their parliament than they ever have, in order to tell their elected officials what they want.
Canadian youth want climate justice and are communicating their demands to the government very clearly. Canada’s youth want the government to pass Bill C-311 – the closest Canada has ever come to having a policy on climate change. They want Indigenous rights to be respected – which means shutting down tar sands developments, which are violating aboriginal treaty rights as well as destroying the environment and increasing Canada’s emissions in order to make profits for the oil industry. Canadian youth want climate justice, and that means a safe climate for all people of the world – including those within its borders.