'Stop the tar sands' protest to greet Harper's speech to the British Parliament

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A previous protest against the tar sands outside Canada House in London.

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An ad hoc coalition has come together to protest the appearance of Stephen Harper in London. The Prime Minister will be speaking to the British Parliament on Thursday, the first time a Canadian PM has done so since MacKenzie King in 1944.

Campaigners have, on numerous previous occasions, held protests against the tar sands outside Canada House on London's Trafalgar Square. But Thursday's action may boast the longest list of civil society endorsers. The following statement was signed by over 25 organizations.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in London to address both Houses of Parliament, in advance of the G8 summit. This is the first time in nearly 70 years the honour has been extended to a Canadian leader. But his visit will be greeted by anti-tar sands protests outside, and an Early Day Motion from MPs calling on the UK government to support EU legislation discouraging future tar sands imports. The protest has transatlantic support from 25 organisations, including Greenpeace UK, Council of Canadians, Friends of the Earth -- England Wales and Northern Ireland, the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign and the World Development Movement.

Concern in the UK over the impact of tar sands extraction has grown steadily in recent years. The oil source has been called 'game over for the climate' by top climate scientist James Hansen, due to the vast potential reserves of this unconventional fuel, and its carbon-intensive extraction process. Locally, new extraction projects are being opposed by First Nations suffering their ill-effects, such as the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Beaver Lake Cree. There are strong opposition movements to opening up the tar sands to new markets via pipelines such as the Keystone XL in the States and the Enbridge Northern Gateway in British Columbia. For peer-reviewed facts and figures on the true impact of the tar sands, see tarsandsrealitycheck.com.

Stephen Harper is the latest in a string of Canadian politicians to come to Europe, partly with the aim of lobbying against a piece of EU climate legislation (the Fuel Quality Directive) which could label the tar sands as more polluting than conventional oil and discourage its future import, closing off Europe as a desperately-needed potential market. The Canadian government has continued to spread misinformation about the Directive in advance of Harper's trip.

The Early Day Motion, published tomorrow and supported by MPs from several different parties, criticises the recent barrage of lobbying from Canada and the oil industry, particularly UK oil giants Shell and BP, and calls on the UK government to support the legislation in an EU vote later this year. On his trip, Harper is also hoping to seal the deal on the controversial Canada-EU free trade agreement (CETA), which could also provide a boost to the tar sands industry, giving oil and gas companies more rights than communities and making it much more difficult for the UK and EU to seriously address climate change in the future.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP who is tabling the Early Day Motion said:

"Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest, most polluting fuels out there and the extraction process causes environmental destruction an almost unimaginable scale. Indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere are now speaking out about the human and ecological rights violations and economic devastation being inflicted by companies like Shell who are hell-bent on extracting tar sands at any cost. David Cameron must make it clear to the Canadian Prime Minister during his visit to the UK that such dirty fuels have no place in the UK or Europe, and UK Ministers must commit to supporting proposals to label tar sands oil as more carbon intensive than other fuels through the EU Fuel Quality Directive. If this Government is serious about tackling climate change, it should do its utmost to drive investment in clean fuels, low carbon transport and improved efficiency -- and ensure that tar sands and other unconventional fossil fuels stay in the ground."

Suzanne Dhaliwal, from UK Tar Sands Network, who is a Canadian citizen and will be dressed as a 'Stop Harper' page -- inspired by Brigette DePape's Senate protest -- at tomorrow's demonstration, said:

"Harper may be coming here hoping to escape the multiple controversies dogging him at home, but the tar sands are a scandal of global proportions, because the industry's emissions continue to escalate at an alarming rate contributing to global climate change. The Canadian government's campaign of misinformation against the EU Fuel Quality Directive is particularly outrageous. They are actively trying to prevent Europe passing effective climate legislation by claiming it is arbitrary, unscientific and unfair. In reality, it is none of these things. It is non-discriminatory, based on solid peer-reviewed science, and covers all types of fuel. So we will be protesting Harper's visit, in solidarity with Indigenous communities and all those opposing the tar sands in Canada."

Jess Worth, from UK Tar Sands Network, said:

"This week, the International Energy Agency warned that we cannot burn two thirds of known fossil fuels if we are to avoid runaway climate change. The tar sands should be top of the list to leave in the ground. Instead, Harper’s government has been trying to foist its dirty product on Europe by spreading misinformation and lobbying against climate legislation that would discourage tar sands imports. The Coalition government should be ashamed of itself for bestowing such an honour on a man who is scuppering climate action abroad and trampling over Indigenous rights and environmental protection at home."

Thursday's protest is planned to begin at 11:15am outside Parliament in Westminster. Follow @rabbleca on Twitter for updates throughout Thursday from both Prime Minister Harper's speech and the protest.

Photo: No-Tar-Sands.org

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