Hundreds Express Opposition to Shipping Albertan Oil Eastward

Hundreds of students denounced the construction of oil pipelines in Quebec by taking to the streets of downtown Montreal on Saturday.

The protest was organized by Étudiants et étudiantes contre les oléoducs, a new coalition of student associations looking to block Albertan oil from being transported to eastern Canada through TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline and a reversal of the flow along Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline. The Concordia Student Union is a founding member of the coalition.

Anthony Garoufalis-Auger, an ÉCO co-spokesperson and the CSU’s VP External and Mobilization, said students were speaking out “in the face of a government and of industries that want to continue with business as usual, even if it means condemning future generations to a precarious existence.”

“The pipelines will allow for the expansion of the tar sands, and the tar sands are completely incompatible with meeting our climate obligations,” he told The Link.

“This has been said by the scientific community and, unfortunately, our government isn’t listening. We need to take matters into our own hands and not compromise on trying to reduce our emissions and transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

The demonstration started at Norman Bethune Square at 1 p.m. Protesters marched west to St. Laurent Blvd. along Ste. Catherine St. before making their way south to Victoria Square, where the protest came to an end. There was a heavy police presence including riot officers, but the protest remained peaceful.

Although the political message was serious, the tone was festive along much of the route, with protesters dancing to music that blared from loudspeakers mounted atop a truck. Some participants carried signs shaped like trees, while others carried a makeshift whale and pipeline.

“It’s really nice to be part of something that’s so joyous. I mean, there’s a lot of anger here, but everyone’s showing it creatively,” said protester Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis, a CSU councillor for the faculty of arts and science.

ÉCO now represents 90,000 students, thanks to the Students’ Society of McGill University joining the coalition. Undergraduates at McGill voted to join ÉCO first at a general assembly in October and then in an online ballot last week.

SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette participated in the protest on Saturday. She said Canada needs to transition to a “renewable-sourced economy” and building more pipelines “is the opposite of solving the problem.”

“We need someone in the next federal election to represent the community […] that is calling on these projects to stop. We’re looking for a candidate to do that.”

Participants expressed skepticism that climate change could be resolved through the political process, however.

Garoufalis-Auger accused the Conservative federal government of “gutting environmental protections,” but was also critical of the opposition New Democrats and Liberals.

“It’s not just Harper. Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau are also in favour of fossil fuel expansion,” he said, eliciting loud boos from the crowd.

Mulcair and the NDP oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would ship oil to the United States, as well as the Northern Gateway pipeline that would bring oil to British Columbia’s coastline for export.

But New Democrats have thrown their support behind the idea of a west-to-east pipeline bringing oil to refineries in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Trudeau and the Liberals have also voiced their opposition to Northern Gateway and have raised environmental concerns about the Energy East pipeline. However, Trudeau has previously stated his support for the southbound Keystone XL, saying it’s “in the national interest.”

“This makes them all culprits in the assault against humanity,” said Garoufalis-Auger. “The failure of our politicians and the business community to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been demonstrated time and time again.”

Protester Natasha Way, a student involved in environmental group Divest McGill, said she doesn’t expect much to change, even after the 2015 federal election. According to her, we need to turn our attention away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energies.

“There’s been a lot of moves lately towards creating new technologies, not to fix climate change but to stop contributing to it,” she said, adding that she’s inspired by countries like Denmark, where the capital city, Copenhagen, is planning to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

“The technologies already exist so that we can transition away from fossil fuels,” said Garoufalis-Auger. “The issue is not economic or one of technology; the issue is a political one. The fossil fuel lobby, unfortunately, has too much control over the government, and the government is listening to industry and not the science.”

ÉCO is promising it will continue to mobilize, with plans for more events in the spring. Speaking to the crowd at the end of the march, Garoufalis-Auger simultaneously issued a rallying cry to activists and a warning to politicians and “titans of industry.”

“Respect existence or expect resistance,” he said as the crowd cheered.

Video by Andy Fidel