News / Canada
By: Les WhittingtonOttawa Bureau reporter, Tonda MacCharles Ottawa Bureau reporter
Protesters calling for action on climate change briefly interrupted Prime Minister Stephen Harper at an event in which he lauded resource development and urged First Nations to embrace energy projects.
OTTAWA—Protesters calling for action on climate change briefly interrupted Prime Minister Stephen Harper at an event in which he lauded resource development and urged First Nations to embrace energy projects.
The session in Vancouver started with an unsettling but peaceful security breach, as two protesters walked onstage directly behind the seated Prime Minister and Vancouver Board of Trade president Iain Black, and held up two handmade cardboard signs.
One placard read: “Climate Justice Now.” The other said: “Conservatives Take Climate Change Seriously”—but it had a black line drawn through the sentence.
Unperturbed, Harper quipped once the protesters were removed: “It wouldn’t be B.C. without it.”
Afterwards, he used a question and answer session to stress the need for Canada to build infrastructure for the natural resource exports the government sees as a key source of future prosperity.
One of the most prominent export-related proposals — the planned Northern Gateway pipeline to carry oilsands-derived crude from Alberta to a tanker port on the British Columbia coast — is fiercely opposed by greens in B.C. They say the pipeline is too environmentally risky and would encourage global warming by enabling oilsands production.
And if the project is approved, aboriginals are expected to go to court to block Northern Gateway, arguing Ottawa failed to fulfill its legal obligation to consult with First Nations on a project that would go through their traditional territories.
Harper said his government is committed to fulfilling its First Nations’ constitutional requirements. But he said he likes to look beyond legal issues to economic opportunities offered by resource development.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity for aboriginal people and their communities to join the mainstream of the Canadian economy,” Harper remarked.
He added that if this opportunity is missed, “we won’t make progress on all of the other things — the social issues — that we need to make progress on” in First Nations communities.
The National Energy Board has given the green light for Northern Gateway, and the Harper government has about six months to make a final decision on whether it should go ahead.
Asked about a recent federal report that found major gaps in Canada’s ability to respond to a West Coast oil tanker spill, Harper said the study was a learning exercise.
Any future projects must include adequate environmental protections, he said. “We want to make sure that every measure is taken to prevent any kind of serious environmental threat or other kind of disaster. And in the, hopefully, rare cases where those happen, that there are adequate responses.”
Harper also said another controversial energy project — the Keystone XL pipeline — is likely to be approved by the United States. “I am confident that in due course — I can’t put a timeline on that — the project in one way or another will proceed.”
The climate change activists who staged the protest were affiliated with Brigette DePape, the former parliamentary page who walked onto the Senate floor holding a Stop Harper sign during a 2011 throne speech. The group said the Vancouver stunt was designed to criticize Canada’s environmental policies.
One of the two protesters, Vancouver activist Sean Devlin, said he and his colleague weren’t approached by security before they walked on stage.
Devlin said he wore a black dress shirt, black pants and an apron that altogether cost $7 at Value Village. It wasn’t a wait staff disguise, he insisted on CBC-TV, but “it did help me get in.”
Devlin was thrown down a small flight of stairs by an RCMP officer as he was forced off stage, while the other activist, Shireen Soofi, was escorted away on foot.
They were handcuffed and questioned, said Devlin, but were quickly released without being charged.
The RCMP refused to discuss specifics of the incident, such as who was in charge, and how it was that protesters were able to approach the prime minister from behind.
“The RCMP takes this matter very seriously,” said RCMP Cpl. Lucy Shorey, in an emailed reply to the Star. “We are currently reviewing the details of the incident and appropriate action will be taken accordingly.”
With files from The Canadian Press