Thirty-four McGill students and alumni gathered on November 5 to travel to Ottawa in order to participate in the Climate Welcome event. The group joined more than seventy other activists who occupied the gates of 24 Sussex, the residence of Canada’s newly appointed prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
The Climate Welcome was planned by groups throughout Canada, but was supported primarily by 350.org, the Council of Canadians, and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. In an interview with The Daily, Kristen Perry, a U4 Environment student and Divest McGill organizer, explained that the demonstrators’ “main demand for real climate action was to freeze tar sands expansion and to start the transition to a just and renewable energy economy.”
Transportation from Montreal to Ottawa was organized by Divest McGill, a campus environmental justice group, bringing students and members of the community to Trudeau’s residence. The McGill participants returned to Montreal on November 6 and November 7, even though the sit-in lasted until November 8.
“Immediately after [the federal elections] we wanted to welcome whoever was coming into office with a Climate Welcome, showing them that the climate movement is big and growing.”
Each day, the demonstrators delivered different sets of ‘gifts’ to Trudeau, in an effort to demand that he take real action on climate change. On the first day, Trudeau was given scientific studies, economic reports, and Indigenous treaties, all of which indicated that the tar sands need to remain underground.
In the following days, the gifts were expanded to include over one million messages from Canadians against tar sands expansion and pipelines, as well as water samples from various communities across the country. On the last day, the demonstrators delivered five solar panels.
Jed Lenestky, a U1 Environment student and Divest McGill organizer, told The Daily, “The only presents that were accepted were on the first day.” The messages, however, were both emailed to the Prime Minister and sent by mail on a USB stick.
Perry expressed that throughout the election period the demonstators’ “goal was to make climate change more of an issue in the election campaign.”
“[Trudeau is] planning to go to the international climate talks [in Paris] without any target essentially. He’s using [former Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s target, which is completely inadequate.”
“Immediately after [the federal elections] we wanted to welcome whoever was coming into office with a Climate Welcome, showing them that the climate movement is big and growing,” Perry said. “We wanted to be there to show [Trudeau] that we would support him in taking climate action.”
Perry continued, “[Trudeau is] planning to go to the international climate talks [in Paris] without any target essentially. He’s using [former Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s target, which is completely inadequate. He said he needs to consult with the provinces which, of course, is a good thing. […] But right now he doesn’t have a target. […] We’re trying to push him, but also support him because he has the potential, I think, to be a leader in climate change action.”
The first day of action
Speaking to The Daily, Andrew Stein, a U3 Environment student and Divest McGill organizer, summarized the action on November 5, the main day on which McGill participants were active.
“We marched down to 24 Sussex. Upon arriving, we split into two groups. Half of us [held a sit-in] in front of 24 Sussex, [and] half of us [held a sit-in] in front of Rideau Cottage. We voiced our demands to the Prime Minister’s office and then we converged on Rideau Hall when the executive assistant to the Prime Minister was sent down to speak with us,” Stein said.
According to Stein, demonstrators then proceeded to escalate their tactics.
“We blocked […] Sussex Drive, at which point we were informed by the police that we were trespassing and officially risking arrest. However, they were on marching orders not to arrest anyone for this kind of basic civil disobedience. […] We stayed in the street for a while, sang some songs, did some chants, demonstrated our presence, and then we took off and called it a day.”
“We blocked […] Sussex Drive, at which point we were informed by the police that we were trespassing and officially risking arrest.”
Perry added, “After we were out there sitting for about two hours on the road itself, we got the news that the police actually weren’t going to arrest us as long as we sat there, and the Prime Minister wasn’t going to come down for the day. So we decided at that point [that] we’d de-escalate for the day and come back with even more people the next day.”
On why he chose to attend, Lenetsky replied, “I think climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the world.”
“[Trudeau] made this promise of real change and I wanted to help hold him to that. […] Every day we were there, the next day we came out with twice as many people. […] Every day we’re growing, this issue isn’t going to go away. […] We’re not going to go away and we’re going to keep fighting until we get what we want,” Lenetsky concluded.