More than 100 protesters climbed over a fence police erected on Parliament Hill on Monday and then sat peacefully, waiting to be arrested.
Greenpeace, the Council of Canadians and Indigenous Environmental Network organized the protest against the development of the tar sands and pipelines that carry Canadian oil to the U.S. It was modelled after the Keystone XL pipeline protests outside the White House and getting arrested was part of the plan from the beginning, organizers said.
The protesters who jumped the fence in front of Centre Block were handcuffed with plastic zip-ties, booked, given a ticket for $65 for trespassing, given a warning to stay away from Parliament Hill for a year and then driven off the Hill, said George Poitras and Liz Bernstein, who were among the first group over the fence.
RCMP Srgt. Marc Menard said more than 100 protesters were arrested for obstructing police, but ultimately only given a provincial offence notice for trespassing.
"The reason for the arrest is people were found, guilty of the offence of obstruction, that's why they were arrested. Just like any other situation the crown and the police have the availability of lowering the charges," he said, but wouldn't elaborate on how the protesters were obstructing police by crossing the fence.
Before crossing the fence, they came from all over the country.
“I’m actually missing the class I teach at the University of Toronto,” said Keith Stewart, after he climbed over the fence. “Right now, my students are in class.”
Asked why he was willing arrested, he said “I’ve been writing environmental policy and lobbying politicians for over a decade and that’s not doing anything. And I’ve got a daughter.”
Blaine Cameron, who uses a wheelchair, was lifted over the fence by supporters. “The oil sands are a monstrosity. They’re killing people, they’re killing our environment, it has to stop, there’s better ways,” he said.
Liz Bernstein, director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, said she had done it to fight the Harper government’s “inaction on climate change.”
“It’s the greatest moral issue of our time,” she said.
Bernstein said she would fight her ticket in court. “(Parliament) is the house of the people, it was a peaceful protest, not threatening the security of anyone, rather wanting to raise our voices on climate change.”
Protest organizers work with police liaisons before the protest said Clayton-Thomas Muller with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
“The police have been very co-operative, doing their job, keeping everybody safe,” said Thomas-Muller. “They’ve been very respectful and our folks are getting released and we’re very happy about that.”
“I think today has been an exhilarating day full of hope for the future, for youngsters of the future to have a sacred relationship with Mother Earth in her abundance,” he said.
Not everyone was so happy about the protest, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver— who defended the oilsands and the Keystone pipeline.
“Our government will continue to promote Canada, and the oil sands, as a stable and secure source of energy to the world, and will defend Canadian jobs and interests,” Oliver said in a news release issued during the demonstration.
He said the pipeline would create more than 140,000 jobs in Canada in the next 25 years, and generate $600 billion in economic activity.
“Our government firmly believes that it is in our collective national interest for the pipeline to proceed,” Oliver said.
Harper told reporters in New York over the weekend that U.S. approval of the oil pipeline is a “no-brainer” since the project would bring thousands of jobs and also ensure a secure source of energy for the United States.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sent out a Tweet as the protest wound down, saying he was “Sad to see about 200 extremists on the Hill today who want to kill livelihood of hundreds of thousands of (Canadians) working in the energy sector.”
Green Party leader Elizabeth May doesn’t share those views. She stopped by the protest before the arrests began.
“I’m concerned about the police presence, which already strikes me as excessive. As a member of parliament, I can’t even walk up the stairs to get to work. I have to around,” she said.
“I don’t know the intentions of the protesters, but I believe that non-violent civil disobedience in a respectful fashion around our Parliament Buildings is bringing an issue that is the critical issue of Canada’s energy future, of our social justice future, our economic future, they’re bringing it to the steps of Parliament Hill. I think they’re showing great courage in doing so, and I support all peaceful actions in doing so.”
All photos Jessica Smith / Metro
-with files from The Canadian Press