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In solidarity with activists in Cancun and people around the world, close to 100 people participated in a climate justice rally in downtown Vancouver today. As a symbolic direct action to highlight the inaction of the government of British Columbia on climate issues, the demonstrators sandbagged the Vancouver offices of the BC premier and cabinet.
Several speakers from local labour, political, and climate justice organizations took to the impromptu stage on the street, as onlookers went about their errands and holiday shopping. Bystanders and demonstrators alike were serenaded with historic social movement songs by the Solidarity Notes Labour Choir and the lively tunes of local band Maria in the Shower.
"Last night was the last day of the climate negotiations in Cancun," explained rally MC Ries Mentink, referring to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, more commonly known as COP-16.
Rally participants shouted their displeasure with the agreement reached in Cancun. The deal is not legally binding and contains no details on carbon emissions reduction targets, nor on budget allocations to the various issues contained in the agreement.
Mentink parodied the official negotiations and agreement: "What about 'we need to protect our rainforests?' Yeah, that's a good idea. Let's talk about it some more."
Calling for immediate action by the BC and Canadian governments on climate issues, the rally marched over to the World Trade Centre building at 999 Canada Place, where the cabinet of the BC government has its Vancouver offices. An assembly line formed to pass sandbags from a truck down two lines of demonstrators all the way to the doors of the building, where a wall of sandbags blockaded the principal entrance.
Throughout the rally and action, a series of local speakers were invited to take the microphone to discuss local issues related to climate disaster and climate justice throughout the lower mainland and BC.
Harold Steves, the former MLA who created the Agricultural Land Reserve in the Fraser valley, spoke out about the freeways threatening the reserve, the recent motion passed by BC's legislature in favour of a tanker ban in BC's coastal waters, and the history of climate justice action in BC.
"In 1968, the first environmental protest in BC that I know of took place," when 4000 people gathered at the Peace Arch border crossing to demand a moratorium on tankers plying BC's waters, said Steves.
"I cannot believe that 40 years later I'm back on the stage, speaking about the same thing," Steves added.
Steves also voiced his disgust with the 3000 acres of farm land taken over by the Vancouver Port Authority to expand coal export operations. Over 29 million tons of coal are shipped out of Roberts Bank each year, releasing more than 20 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, added Steves.
"If we can't shut the coal factories down, at least we can tax them to death, instead of them putting people to death around the world," denounced Steves.
"We are becoming the anti-climate control capital of the world," he added.
Irene Lazinger, the newly elected secretary-treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour, echoed many of the remarks made by both previous speakers, as well as shouts from the crowd.
"We don't have the luxury of waiting. We're tired of the Harper government embarassing us with their heads in the tar sands," said an indignant Lazinger.
The BC Federation of Labour recently passed a resolution condemning the Canadian Senate's killing of Bill C-311. The piece of legislation would hold Canada accountable to its international obligations in greenhouse gas emission reductions, setting specific targets to be met.
"That bill was passed in the House and overturned by the Harper-controlled Senate," explained Lazinger.
Canadian Auto Workers activist Susan Spratt also spoke about the support of the labour movement for the climate justice movement. There can be responsible action and justice for the planet without jeopardizing union jobs, she explained.
"Workers' health is not for sale, nor is the health of the planet," said Spratt.
Indigenous Action Movement founder and First Nations residential school survivor Cat Norris also spoke out to the rally. She highlighted that many of the places discussed, as well as places within Vancouver such as Kitsilano, were inhabited by local First Nations. The majority of BC is unceded indigenous territory.
"Greed is the new apocalyptic monster. Greed is what is keeping the destruction of our lands and water alive," said Norris.
"A big change can happen as long as we stand together," Norris added.
As the rally stood in front of the wall of sandbags, Mentink called out to Gordon Campbell, to the laughter of the crowd: "Oh Campbell, we're calling you... The people are waiting for you... Come out...Knock, knock..."
While the demonstration slowly dispersed, many stuck around to sing along to the tunes sung by both the Solidarity Notes Labour Choir and Maria in the Shower. The high spirits and the urgency of action on climate justice was evident among rally participants.
"After 50 years, there is no time left for compromise," said Harold Steves, adding that "[the] time for compromise is over!"
A demonstration against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project was announced for next week, to the cheers of those gathered. The "uncelebration of Enbridge" will take place this coming Thursday, December 16th at noon, outside the Enrbidge office at 505 Burrard Street.
Rally MC Ries Mentink asked: "Bob, do we have any sandbags left?"