Last Wednesday, on the evening of March 7, we joined hundreds of people across the US and Europe who responded to the Sierra Club’s call to stand vigil in front of Canadian consulates, calling on Canadian leaders to take a deep look at the consequences of tar sands development on human health, global ecology and our future prosperity. The aim was to highlight the damage being done by Canada’s multi-million dollar lobbying initiative, which is aggressively promoting their filthy fuel to our governments, and – in our case – to expose the UK government for being Canada’s top cheerleader in this strategy. It ended up as something rather different than a vigil…
We arrived with around 15 people, mainly from the Occupy London Energy, Environment and Equity Group, but also from UK Tar Sands Network and Campaign Against Climate Change. We lit our candles and took up our vigil position on the steps of the High Commission. We talked about the tar sands, did a few chants, flyered passers-by. Then someone noticed that round the corner there was some kind of meeting going on inside the High Commission building. We decided to go and investigate. We spotted through the windows a room full of about 100 people busily networking, with a banner in the background sporting UK and Canadian flags and boasting ‘Linking business across the Atlantic since 1921’.
We realised that some of the people who we really wanted to hear our message were in that room, and the Canadian government would be most displeased at our presence outside. All of the sudden, the vigil turned into a protest. We started chanting as loud as we could outside the window. UKTSN’s Jess spoke through a megaphone, explaining that we were there because of the Canadian government’s outrageous lobbying behaviour, pushing their dirty oil in Europe and undermining the Fuel Quality Directive (check out the video for the details!). Gradually people started to trickle out of the building. One of them told us there were oil industry representatives in there. Another refused to take our flyer, due to the fact that he was ‘one of the world’s biggest tar sands investors’! We kept the protest/vigil up even after the police arrived, watched by High Commission staff through their ornate doors.
We were so pleased that what had started out as something purely symbolic had turned into a genuinely effective protest, which will have emphasised to the High Commission that we are watching their every move and embarrassed them in front of their powerful guests. We left thinking that we should probably do this again!