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Reflections in the lead up to September 26 Tar Sands Action

Preparations are coming together for what stands to be a historic event in Ottawa this Monday.  I already know of buses coming from Toronto, Montreal, Peterborough, Guelph and Kingston and there are plenty more people making their way here.

If you haven’t heard yet, people from across the country are heading to Parliament Hill for a rally featuring a non-violent civil disobedience sit-in over the tar sands, this coming Monday, September 26.

Participants are responding to a call to action for a large peaceful protest where many will risk arrest to tell the Harper government they don’t support his reckless agenda, that we need to turn away from the tar sands and oppose the direction he’s taking this country.

We want to build a green energy future that respects Indigenous rights and prioritizes the health of our environment and communities.

The plan:

At 10:00 on Monday September 26, people will gather near the Centennial Flame at Parliament Hill for a solidarity rally to kick off the action. There will be a number of speeches from environmental and social justice organizations, union representatives and prominent individuals of Indigenous communities directly impacted by the tar sands.

Following the speeches, those willing to risk arrest will separate from the solidarity rally and, in a peaceful, organized fashion, walk toward the main doors of Parliament Hill for a sit-in in the foyer of Centre Block.

Why now?

More than 1200 people were arrested in a peaceful 2 week long sit-in outside the White House demanding that President Obama refuse to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring tar sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico.

On September 26 we will demonstrate our solidarity with them, demand that Harper stop lobbying in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline and start dealing with the source of the problem – the devastation of the tar sands.

Why civil disobedience?

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders… millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country...” Howard Zinn

I have been with the Council of Canadians for over three years now, and alarmed by the tar sands for much longer. I have been part of a movement saying enough is enough, we need meaningful action on the tar sands.

Regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Honour Treaty Rights. Respect the right to say no – free prior and informed consent.  Protect water in the tar sands region – enforce the pollution provisions of the federal Fisheries Act. Prevent leaks from massive toxic tailing ponds. Plan for a just transition to a fossil free future. And so much more.

This has been brought forward by a plurality of voices including grassroots activists, grassroots and elected leadership of First Nations and Indigenous communities, by NGO representatives, scientists, doctors, politicians, grandparents (and more). These reasonable and necessary demands are being brought forward in many different arenas including federal and provincial review processes, lobbying days of action on the Hill, petitions, demonstrations, creative actions, in building broader awareness through education events and more.

These forms of advocacy which fall within the lines of civil obedience are absolutely necessary, and I among many others will tirelessly continue down these paths.

What has the Harper government’s response been to these demands?  Here’s a sample of Harper’s record:

  • Continuing $1.4 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas sector while cutting funding for an important federal renewable energy programme.
  • Overruling the court decisions that were holding up the tar sands Kearl project, a $8 billion dollar project that will affect 200 square km of boreal forest and is projected to generate 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 every year for the 50 year life of the project.
  • Lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. and against low carbon fuel standards that penalize tar sands crude in the U.S. and EU.
  • Continuing to approve new tar sands projects.
  • Releasing a long awaited report of water monitoring related to the tar sands, the response to the report is mixed at best.
  • Cutting jobs at Environment Canada.

This from one of the least legitimate majority governments in Canadian history.

With just 39.62 per cent of the votes in the May 2011 election, the Conservatives now hold 54.22 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. If the seats were won in proportion to the votes cast, they would have 122 seats, that’s 45 fewer seats and not a parliamentary majority. Polling has demonstrated that Canadians are concerned about the environmental and social consequences of the tar sands.

It is at times such as these that civil disobedience has an important role to play.

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