Fridays for Future: Canadian activists want climate justice back in the spotlight
TORONTO -- While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to overshadow most other topics in 2020, Canadian activists are joining demonstrators around the world for a day of protests to bring climate change back into the conversation.
On Friday, students and workers across the country took to the streets to protest the federal government’s inaction on earlier green promises, such as curbing greenhouse gas emissions and planting two billion trees, which have been put on the backburner due to the outbreak.
Protests, walkouts, and sit-ins took place in several Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax, on Friday to mark the return of the global Fridays for Future movement led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
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The youth-led strikes, which began in 2018 when Thunberg skipped school to protest alone outside the Swedish parliament, have been sidelined by the pandemic.
“We are scared of bringing up another crisis in 2020. That’s not what people want to hear. And yet, it is absolutely what we need to talk about,” climate activist Allie Rougeot, a coordinator of Fridays for Future Toronto, told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.
“We have to say, ‘We are not going back to the system that is allowing the climate crisis.’ So after COVID, we need a new normal that has also climate in mind.”
That doesn’t mean, however, the young demonstrators will be throwing caution to the wind and ignoring public health guidance related to the outbreak as they gather on Friday, Rougeot explained.
The 20-year-old activist said she and her fellow organizers for the downtown Toronto event have been planning for participants to physically distance from each other during the three-hour demonstration.
“We’re having in-person protests, the youth is organizing again, but with a lot of safety and COVID is really, really the priority in all of our planning,” she said.
While their virtual climate campaigns and social media actions of the past few months gave activists the opportunity to connect to allies around the world, Rougeot said it’s time to make their physical presence known and raise the profile of the stifled movement.
“This is when the [pandemic] recovery is going to come in, there’s going to be new budgets and the throne speech… we have to go back in the street, social distance safely, but firmly, because otherwise, we’re going to get erased from this story,” she said.
Rougeot and other activists took issue with the federal government’s speech from the throne on Wednesday, saying the Liberals didn't go far enough prioritizing environmental concerns.
“I do think we were kind of erased from the political agenda,” Rougeot said. “In the throne speech, climate was just a kind of a segment and not really the whole lens of the speech.”
In a statement released on Friday morning, the national network Climate Strike Canada called the throne speech “abysmally inadequate” and called on youth to mobilize across the country in reaction to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s failed green promises.
“A year ago Trudeau committed to planting two billion trees. They’re nowhere to be seen,” the group said. “This gap between promise and reality is the lens through which young people heard his speech. Moreover, even if his promises were fulfilled, they would remain woefully insufficient. And so we march and shout and protest, because our lives depend on it.”
In the speech, the minority government vowed to plant all two billion trees, present legislation formalizing their goal of hitting net-zero emissions by 2050, and move forward with their 2021 ban on single-use plastics.
While Rougeot acknowledged the usefulness of single-use plastics to prevent further spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, she reminded people to think about where that plastic is coming from and what could be used as alternatives in the future.
“We’re still going to be producing plastic for a while and that’s the way things are, but what we need to focus on is ‘What are the future materials? What are the future sources of energy going to be? This is what Canadians are worried about and need to talk about,” she said.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Rachel Aiello