On Sunday November 8th, Day 4 of Climate Welcome, we gathered at Rideau Falls Park once again. On this day, we went in knowing we weren’t risking arrest but we we were determined, nonetheless, to deliver a strong message in support of climate justice right to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s doorstep. On this day, with a gift of five solar panels our message was solutions-centred — we wanted to demonstrate to Justin that it’s very much feasible to put clean energy on top and build a new justice-based economy.
We gathered in a circle this morning, many of us were there for the fourth time, still full of as much resolve and energy as we were on the first three days. After all, we were at Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s doorstep for every single one of the first four days of his term in office. In that time, our action had been covered by all national media outlets in the country, and we brought together hundreds of people from across the country, effectively, strengthening the climate justice movement in Canada from coast to coast.
We assembled in a circle that morning, and led by the drumming of the Ottawa River Singers, we set forth on a march once again carrying an array of solar panels — our contribution to the renovations at 24 Sussex Drive. We also had a second gift — a copy of ‘the Leap Manifesto,’ a document drafted by movement leaders across the country on the dynamics of transitioning to a justice-based clean economy.
On this day, we were honoured to hear from some Indigenous leaders on the very frontlines of the fight against the tar sands. We were joined by Melina Laboucan-Massimo who is from the Lubicon Cree First Nation. Melina has worked with her community to set up solar panels right in the heart of the tar sands as an act of bold solutions-orientation resistance. She spoke to the experience of impacted communities for whom the question of freezing the tar sands is literally a question of ‘life or death.’ Melina spoke to the various ways in which her community has been impacted by the tar sands facing chronic illnesses, diseased animals and poisoned waters on a daily basis. She also spoke to the viability of establishing a justice-based clean energy economy which is a transition that First Nations like the Lubicon Cree have begun to lead by initiating community-owned solar projects.
We also heard from Rueben George, from the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation who has been leading the struggle against the Kinder Morgan trans-mountain pipeline on the Coast Salish territories. Rueben spoke to the degree to which the pipeline assessment process is broken in this country — when a former consultant for Big Oil has a seat on the National Energy Board and Indigenous voices are so heavily sidelined. He spoke to the assessment of the Kindermorgan pipeline that his community did independently only to discover the tremendous risks it would pose to their water sources — from which the Tsleil-Waututh nation derives 90% of their diet.
We also heard from Tantoo Cardinal, Indigenous human rights activist and well-known Hollywood actress, who grew up in the tar sands. Tantoo recalled a time when the water surrounding the tar sands was drinkable and the food sourced from that area was edible — something that is far from a reality now. She also recalled growing up at a time when the government played an active role in repressing and assimilating Indigenous peoples and actively carrying out state-sanctioned violence against communities like hers through the residential school program. She spoke to the inconsistency between carving out a path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples while also supporting the expansion of the tar sands.
The powerful stories shared by Tantoo Cardinal, Rueben George and Melina Laboucan-Massimo resonated deeply with those of us participating in Day 4 of Climate Welcome and they strengthened our resolve to push for a tar sands freeze.
Led by these three Indigenous leaders, we carried the panels to the Prime Minister’s residence, arranged ourselves and our messaging around them, and once again proceeded to call the Prime Minister’s Office. To our surprise, the PMO’s voicemail was full, quite likely from the hundreds of messages we had left the day before, and we were unable to leave a message!
We began to communicate our message in song as we waited to hear word from the PMO — the crowd favourite was ‘Listen Justin — to Climate Justice’ a song sung to the tune of Hallelujah and one captured in this tweet.
Eventually, the PMO informed us that they would send Pav Sapra, the representative that had received us on the first two days of Climate Welcome, to meet us once again. Pav received us and the media, he committed to share the reports and messages with the PMO — promising that we would receive a response from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
However, he declined the gift of solar panels which was presented to him by Tantoo Cardinal, Rueben George, Melina Laboucan-Massimo — telling us that he couldn’t accept the gift on the Prime Minister’s behalf. Here’s a video of the reception:
We accepted that response but we also pledged to return to give Prime Minister Trudeau the chance to accept the panels one last time. We left once again by leaving our messages for the Prime Minister — this time on the fence of Rideau Hall
Overall, it’s been a long four days but it’s also been a remarkable, historical moment. Justin Trudeau’s been talking the talk about taking real climate leadership but he’s ignored the fact that the science of climate change means 85% of the tar sands need to stay in the ground. Now, thanks to the courage of Indigenous frontline community members and hundreds of other people — that’s going to be an impossible act to keep up. Mainstream media has already begun to confront the Prime Minister about his position on our demands and we’re launching a new ‘Freeze the Tar Sands’ campaign to make sure we keep the pressure up.