A call to action: Non-violent civil disobedience against the tar sands

| September 14, 2011
Canadian actors and activists Tantoo Cardinal and Margot Kidder protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., in August. They were arrested shortly after.

A defining moment in Canadian history will take place in Ottawa this month.

On Sept. 26, hundreds of individuals from across the country will participate in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The objective is to send a clear message to the Harper regime, calling on the government to withdraw its unquestioning support of the tar sands industry and to provide leadership by forging the transition to a clean, just and renewable energy that respects Indigenous rights and gives priority to the health of our communities and the environment. It could well turn out to be the largest demonstration of environmental civil disobedience in the history of this country's climate movement.

For several years, many civil society groups and individuals have written letters, signed petitions, participated in actions across the country and sought to educate their elected officials on the moral imperative of stopping our addiction to fossil fuel and building a sustainable future. Yet, most of these efforts have been ignored, while the fragmentation between environmental, health and economic problems continue to intensify and the connections that intertwine them remain unaddressed.

The massive tars sands production taking place in northern Alberta is Canada's fastest growing global warming machine. The expansion of the tar sands industry results in the destruction of large swaths of Canada's Boreal forests and wetlands, the depletion of freshwater systems, the creation of vast ponds of toxic mining waste, the development of high numbers of rare cancers in downstream indigenous communities, the trampling of treaty and indigenous rights and the death of nesting migratory birds. All of these socio-environmental effects will impact the Canadian economy and the future quality of life of the people in Canada.

This fall, the Harper regime is returning to Parliament with a majority government and is therefore in a stronger position to collaborate with its provincial counterpart in Alberta in establishing a full-fledged petro-state in this country. The last Harper budget gave $1.4 billion in subsidies to oil and gas industries, which have further facilitated the growth of the Alberta tar sands, severely threatening the future of our economy, society and climate. Recently, the Harper government slashed the budget of Environment Canada as a key measure in its austerity program. We can no longer stand on the sidelines and witness the disintegration of Canada.

Like the great social movements of the past century, from women's suffrage to civil rights, individuals are mobilizing across Canada and the United States through peaceful civil disobedience to stop this move to a petro-state future. The call from this growing movement is that governments should be funding the solution not the problem. We need a broader societal shift away from our addiction to dirty carbon fuels and towards a more just, equitable and green energy future, one that will leave our communities healthier and our planet intact.

For many, the moment to mobilize is now. In the U.S., between Aug. 20 and Sept. 3, over 1,000 people were arrested in daily acts of peaceful civil disobedience in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. One of the main goals of this action was to convince President Barack Obama to reject the pipeline that would increase demand and production of bitumen in the tar sands by opening a new outlet for Canada's dirty oil. Clearly, what we have witnessed in Washington, D.C. this summer is that people from all walks of life are organizing resistance and risking arrest to send a message that we can no longer afford an economic model that has destructive fossil fuels as the primary driver.

On Sept. 26, people from every part of Canada will converge in Ottawa to declare collectively that it is not acceptable that future generations will have to live with the fallout from the destructive tar sands. This is a call to action. Your world. Your choice. Will you be there?

Find out how you can get involved by clicking here.

Elly Adeland is the campaigns coordinator of the Polaris Institute.

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