An RCMP officer speaks to a protester in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011 at the anti-tar sands protest. Photo: Marco Vigliotti

Dozens of protesters objecting to the federal government’s enthusiastic support for Alberta’s Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline running from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico were arrested Monday as they attempted to stage a sit-in in the House of Commons.

Those arrested in the first wave of protesters trying to gain access to the House included chairperson of The Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow, and Dave Coles, the president of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, along with his executive assistant and blogger Fred Wilson.

The protesters aired their grievances with the environmentally reckless policies of the Harper led Conservatives inside Parliament but were blocked from entering by fenced barricades up to 100 RCMP officers.

The protesters were encouraged by hundreds of boisterous supporters as they passed the media scrum and calmly hopped over the police barricades.

In contrast with the scenes at the Toronto G20 protests in June 2010, no incidents of violence were reported, with both sides in the rally behaving civilly to the point of police placing a small stepladder on the other side of the barricade for the protesters to safely descend.

A diverse group of speakers kicked off the rally sharing their own personal stories of suffering from the colossal impact of the Alberta Tar Sands on that province and region.

Members of First Nations communities who live downstream from the Tar Sands told of firsthand accounts with water contamination, ecosystem degradation, and a growing public health catastrophe.

“It was a changed landscape forever,” says Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Climate and Energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, about her local community’s struggle with an oil pipeline spill.

“It consumed a whole stretch of our traditional territory, where my family once hunted, once trapped, once picked berried, once harvested [herbal] medicine for generations and can no longer do it in that territory,” she added.

Other speakers told how members of their own communities were suffering from pollution-caused cancer and diseases, while the federal government, pipeline contractors and oil companies ignored their concerns.

Many in the crowd spoke of the need to fight back against the continued development of the tar sands by coming together and strengthening the opposition movement.

“This rally is about brining a common voice recognizing that the government is ignoring opposition to the Tar Sands development,” says Andrea Harden-Donahue, the Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner Council of Canadians. “The stronger our movement is the more power we will have.”

More to follow….

Marco Vigliotti is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.