Hundreds protest climate inaction on Earth Day in downtown Montreal

From high schoolers to working adults, Montrealers denounce governmental failures to uphold environmental promises

Protesters march with their signs towards Square Victoria on April 22. Photo Iness Rifay
Flavie Chénier (middle), Gal Barnea (left of Chénier) and Theo Simons (left of Barnea) lead the demonstration. Photo Iness Rifay
Protesters make their way down the streets of Montreal. Photo Iness Rifay
One of the leading chanters looks onward while marching by the National Bank building. Photo Iness Rifay
Protesters pose with their sign as the crowd marches down from City Hall to Square Victoria. Photo Iness Rifay
Zoé Labelle (left), Lou Andrea Dufrene (middle) and Flavie Chénier (right) take a moment to rest at the protest. Photo Iness Rifay
The crowd listens as Gal Barnea speaks. Photo Iness Rifay
Protesters were provided with paint at the end of the march. Photo Iness Rifay

“It’s time that the ultra-rich pay their fair share and help this crisis that they are mostly responsible for,” 14-year-old Gal Barnea yelled out to a crowd of hundreds of protesters in Montreal. Participants listened attentively as she gave a speech at Square Victoria on April 22, Earth Day.

Barnea was met with an uproar of supportive cries, with around half of them belonging to teenagers just like her. The protest began at City Hall and marched westward to Square Victoria while facing major banks in the city including Desjardins, Banque Nationale and RBC, in front of which activists decried their fossil fuel investments.

“It’s time that the ultra-rich pay their fair share and help this crisis that they are mostly responsible for.” — Gal Barnea

For Barnea, organizing and attending such protests is routine. She balances her grade 9 studies at St. George’s School of Montreal with her involvement in Pour Le Futur Montreal, a group primarily composed of high school students demanding climate action.

“I’m so excited because it’s a great opportunity to be able to share my message with a huge crowd,” she said. “Over at Pour le Futur, we strike weekly, but today, we’ve got an enormous amount of people and that sends a message to governments.”

Activists have been striking for years to hold their government accountable, especially as experts publish alarming new numbers on gas emissions. 

Three weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth assessment report. It set a three-year timer for the world to drastically reduce its gas emissions and prevent a global increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius .

Gal Barnea reads her speech to the crowd at Square Victoria on April 23. Photo Iness Rifay

Many climate advocates present at the event worried that protests aren’t enough to make governments aware of the urgency of the situation, validated by reports like that of the IPCC.

Despite feeling that her cries may have fell on deaf ears,16-year-old Flavie Chénier observed the large crowd of protesters and smiled. “It’s so nice to see so many young people mobilize for this,” she said. “It feels like there’s a lot of hope.” 

Protester Lou Andrea Dufrene expanded on this sentiment: “We don’t only see people our age. There are older people; adults. I find that amazing, that [some adults] take their afternoons off on Fridays to attend climate protests, big or small.”

Both girls attend Joseph-François-Perrault secondary school and have gone to five other climate justice protests. They plan to participate in many more, understanding the gravity of climate change and the collective effort required to make change when leaders won’t listen. Chénier said those in power are repeatedly given environmental suggestions by researchers and scientists, but often turn them down. 

Zoé Labelle, another young protester at the march, wished those with political power the courage to take action and hear out climate activists.“Listen to us. Listen to the young people and listen to those who want to talk—and act.”

Theo Simons (right) sits by the statue of Jean Vauquelin near City Hall. Photo Iness Rifay

One example of an adult taking time off to involve themselves in climate protests is Serge “Sergio de Rosemont” Leclerc. He is an activist who is associated with Quebec Solidaire. Leclerc is immensely concerned about the environment and is worried by the thought that three generations from now, the planet might not have any breathable air left.

Leclerc’s way of fighting for climate justice and advocating for everyone’s right to a clean planet focuses on future quality of life. “When you create a movement like this, you can’t just think about yourself. You have to think about the grandchildren of the grandchildren of the grandchildren and so on of your grandkids,” he said. “If I were to come back in 500 years, would my descendants be able to find a way to not only survive but live a normal life?”

“It is impossible to be a supporter of the capitalist system and to be a climate activist. Anyone who claims to be is lying.” — Theo Simons

Having become a vegetarian for environmental reasons, Leclerc is slowly transitioning to a fully vegan diet. He believes a solution to slowing the pace of climatic collapse is to think long term: the resources required to raise a cow for a pound of beef could be used more sustainably if most people shifted their diet. 

This kind of process would demand a complete systemic overhaul. For teen demonstrator Theo Simons, the commitment to a green future is not hard to make. “It is impossible to be a supporter of the capitalist system and to be a climate activist. Anyone who claims to be is lying.”