Thousands gather in downtown Victoria as part of global climate strike

Thousands of people — the crowd size rivalled that of Canada Day celebrations, police said — gathered outside the legislature on Friday as part of a worldwide climate strike.

Students and other protesters walked out of classrooms and workplaces at 11 a.m. and met outside the legislature at noon.

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The densely packed crowd covered the lawn and spilled onto Belleville Street. Police closed several streets in the area.

Protesters held signs with slogans like, “System change, not climate change,” “Rise up before the sea does,” and “I would be in class if you didn’t need to be schooled.”

After an opening from Songhees elder Joan Morris and a poem by Victoria High School student and youth poet laureate Agartu Ali, the crowd heard urgent calls to action from local youth activists.

Protesters moved to Belleville Street about 1:30 p.m., marching to Douglas Street until they reached the intersection of Fort and Douglas streets, where many of them stayed until the late afternoon, listening to music and more speakers.

Savannah Layne Barratt, who organized a walkout from Camosun College, said she was amazed at the number of people who participated. “It’s the largest strike that has ever happened in Victoria, so it’s kind of like an awe-inspiring moment.”

The size of the crowd and its diversity gives Barratt hope. People of all ages, from young children to baby boomers and older, came out to demand that governments take serious action on climate change.

“It kind of just feels like the entire city is here, and that’s an amazing feeling for sure,” Barratt said.

Kim Hughes and Shelagh Bell-Irving, both baby boomers, came from Shawnigan Lake to support the youth-led movement. Bell-Irving said she sees the young leaders as the tipping point in the fight against climate change.

“We’ve got to listen to the youth,” she said. “They realize this is their future and they have to do something to get us to wake up.”

Some students walked out of school while classes continued, while others attended the event with their teachers. Andrew Bissoon chaperoned his son’s Grade 5 class of about 35 children on a field trip to the protest.

“I think congregating in large numbers for a cause is important,” Bissoon said.

Several politicians were among those who gathered at the legislature, including federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh; Laurel Collins, who is a federal election candidate for the NDP in Victoria; and Racelle Kooy, running in Victoria for the Green Party.

Kooy said she has been attending local climate strikes since early 2019, shortly after the first student strike was held in December of last year. She has watched the movement grow from a handful of kids less than a year ago to thousands.

“It’s amazing,” Kooy said, adding she was inspired to run for political office after seeing youth mobilize around climate change.

Not everyone at the protest was on the same page. Police said there was a man in the crowd wearing a T-shirt that read: “I love fossil fuels.”

There are a couple of reasons why some people remain skeptical of climate change, despite the overwhelming science, said Robert Gifford, an expert in environmental psychology.

“Usually, it’s some sort of financial investment or comfortable lifestyle that somebody doesn’t want to see disturbed,” he said.

“It makes it difficult to accept that there’s a problem when you have a financial investment.”

Rallies were also held in Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Courtenay, Campbell River, Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, and North Pender, Mayne, Gabriola and Denman Islands.

The rallies cap a week of climate events, starting with an emergency climate session at the United Nations on Monday where teen activist Greta Thunberg lashed out at world leaders for not taking the climate crisis seriously enough.

Thunberg began weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish legislature last year, which over the course of a few months grew into a global phenomenon. One week ago, millions of people around the world marched in protest against governments not taking drastic climate action. Another day of global protest took place Friday, including in more than 85 cities and towns in Canada.

From St. John’s to Tofino, and as far north as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, hundreds of thousands of Canadians came out in force. Their message: bolder action is urgently needed to save the planet from the crisis of climate change.

The grassroots groups behind the Canadian marches have specific demands, including refusing any new oil and gas projects and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to one-quarter of what they were in 2005 by 2030.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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Earlier post:

Thousands of people gathered at the legislature on Friday as part of a worldwide climate strike.

Students and other protesters walked out of classrooms and workplaces at 11 a.m. to meet on the grounds of the legislature at 12 p.m.

Protesters expected to leave the grounds about 1:30 p.m. to march to the intersection of Fort and Douglas streets, where they plan to stay until 5 p.m.

Police closed several streets around the legislature, saying crowds rivalled those seen at Canada Day celebrations in the capital.

Events were also planned for Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Courtenay, Campbell River, Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, and North Pender, Mayne, Gabriola and Denman Islands.

The rally caps off a week of climate events, starting with an emergency climate session at the United Nations on Monday where teen activist Greta Thunberg lashed out at world leaders for not taking the climate crisis seriously enough.

Thunberg began weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish legislature last year, which over the course of a few months grew into a global phenomenon. One week ago, millions of people around the world marched in protest against governments not taking drastic climate action. Another day of global protest took place Friday, including in more than 85 cities and towns in Canada.

From St. John’s to Vancouver, and as far north as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, tens of thousands of Canadians came out in force. They came in strollers and on skateboards, on bikes and in army boots, wearing knee braces and leaning on crutches and canes. From babies to baby boomers, grandkids to grandparents, they filled parks and the lawns of legislatures and Parliament, toting papier-mache Earths and trees, some with full potted plants on their backs.

Their message was clear: bolder action is urgently needed to save the planet from the crisis of climate change.

The grassroots groups behind the Canadian marches have some specific demands, including refusing any new oil and gas projects and cutting emissions to be just one-quarter of what they were in 2005 by 2030.

Coming as it has in the midst of Canada’s federal election campaign, many candidates and four of the six mainstream party leaders joined events in their cities Friday. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Green Leader Elizabeth May, and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet all marched in Montreal, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh marched in Victoria.

- With a file from The Canadian Press

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