Ayear ago this past week, we participated in a demonstration on Parliament Hill to protest the energy policies of the Harper government and the lack of action on climate change.
The spirit of that event will be evident in October when hundreds of people gather in front of the B.C. legislature for a sit-in that opposes threats to B.C.'s coast. Last year's demonstration was a peaceful protest - some might even say a bit staid - and yet police arrested us and escorted us away. Now, a year later - a year in which we were banned from going to the legislature - we will be in court this week to explain why we're not criminals.
We are both middle-aged Canadians, outspoken and yet not radical or prone to misunderstanding the value of working with governments to bring about change. One of us works for a group of six female Nobel Peace laureates who work together to promote women's rights around the globe. The other spent the last five years leading a coalition of almost 100 Canadian organizations working to push for action on climate change.
Together, we have spent almost two decades working in the world's most impoverished countries. Indeed, we met and became a couple in Mozambique while working to ban landmines in a place where hundreds of children have lost lives and limbs to these weapons.
Neither of us want to be arrested, handcuffed, detained or imprisoned. But we are doing everything we can to raise our voices against policies that go against our values - and, more importantly, those of most Canadians. There are, and there always have been, times when our laws and democracy fail us. A government elected with less than 40 per cent of the vote should not be deciding the future for generations to come. And a future built on an unsustainable economy that destroys our planet is not acceptable.
Like so many Canadians, we try our best to do our part to slow down climate change, from recycling to commuting by bicycle to conserving the energy we use to heat our homes. Despite the collective efforts of Canadians to work toward a sustainable future, the Harper government continues to systematically lie to the people of Canada about its intention to do its fair share to slow global warming.
Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada has distinguished itself as a country that is aggressively promoting the very fuels (most notably oilsands oil) that are responsible for creating the problem of climate change in the first place. While most of the rest of the industrialized world is slowly trying to put in place policies that will help us phase out oil, coal and gas and increase renewable energy and energy efficiency, the climate change and energy policies of the Harper government are actually moving our country in the opposite direction.
Harper has called climate change "perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today," but his government has broken a series of commitments to adopt policies that would do something positive, and is actively working to undermine international climate change negotiations. Worse still for the average Canadian, this government has killed Canada's only major federal programs to promote renewable energy and home-energy efficiency.
We find it hard enough to understand why anyone would stick his or her head in the sand on the issue of climate change, but it seems irresponsible and unethical for our federal government to be leading us in the opposite direction that we need to go.
Although last year's demonstration on Parliament Hill wasn't a raucous event, it was in its quiet way a historic one. For the first time in Canadian history hundreds of people were willing to risk arrest to protest the climate change policies of the federal government.
This was not a radical act. What is radical is actively promoting policies that tear at the life-support systems of the planet and put people's lives in danger.
We believe that the values that motivated us are shared by the majority of Canadians, and that more people will be coming forward to demand action on climate change in the months and years to come. In fact, two weeks ago, more than 80 influential leaders from across Canada announced a mass sit-in in front of the B.C. provincial legislature on Oct. 22. The sit-in will oppose oilsands pipelines and tankers and the threats they would pose to the West Coast. More than 2,400 people have already stepped forward.
In spirit, at least, we will be there with them.
Graham Saul is the former Director of Climate Action Network Canada. Liz Bernstein is the executive director of the Nobel Women's Initiative group.
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