Oxford, UK- Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, Gordon Campbell, was greeted with protests at Oxford University on Friday. Local community members held a banner which read “Keep Tar Sands out of Europe” at the entrance to Lady Margaret Hall as Campbell arrived to deliver a seminar at the college. “Canada is promoting tar sands oil as a clean and ethical energy source, when we know that the exact opposite is the case,” said Suzanne Dhaliwal, from the UK Tar Sands Network. “Entire ecosystems are being destroyed and communities are being devastated in order to extract this highly polluting source of oil.”
Campbell, the former premier of British Columbia, has been on a persistent campaign to promote Canadian tar sands in Europe as a source of ‘ethical and green oil’ since 2011. The aggressive lobbying has backfired with Gordon Campbell having noted that “Brand Canada” has been internationally damaged by attempts to sell tar sands oil at all costs.
The protest was organized by Tar-Free Oxford a group of concerned citizens, local businesspeople, students and climate campaigners. The group are concerned about Canada’s relentless lobbying against a key piece of EU climate policy, the Fuel Quality Directive, which aims to reduce imports of highly polluting fuels such as tar sands and synthetic oil from coal into Europe. Despite the group’s protest being peaceful, there was an excessive police presence throughout with some members being warned of possible arrest before the talk had even begun.
The High Commissioner was put on the defensive by a series of questions from both British and Canadian students invoking Canada’s refusal to acknowledge opposition on tar sands. “Brand Canada” took another bash when one speaker admitted to being “embarrassed” by Canada’s persistent undermining of both domestic and international climate legislation. Campbell was clearly uncomfortable when pushed on the Idle No More uprisings and reacted aggressively to challenges from another member of the audience regarding the need to radically change overall energy use patterns.
“Canada is no longer the progressive, green nation we thought it was, despite Campbell’s claims. It is becoming an aggressive petro-state,” said Oxford student Chris Peterson. “Despite Campbell’s involvement in EU lobbying, he implied that the Fuel Quality Directive doesn’t impact the economic viability of the tar sands. I asked him why he had been lobbying so hard if that was the case but that question remained unanswered as he was led away to dinner.”
Although current imports of tar sands oil into the UK are minimal, European markets are key to expanding Canada’s tar sands operations. The UK government has been a close ally of the Canadian government, defending the interests of BP and Shell, who have significant investments in the Canadian tar sands.
The Canadian government has failed to adequately address the concerns of First Nations communities impacted by tar sands operations. As a result they have had to bring their concerns to an international audience. First Nations leader, Bill Erasmus was in Berlin on Thursday raising awareness about the impacts of tar sands in Northern Canada and supported the European Commission’s effort to label fuels from tar sands deposits as highly polluting under the FQD.
“I stand in solidarity with the communities who are being impacted by the development of tar sands” said Oxford resident and college alumnus Ruthi Brandt. “I am outraged at the aggressive lobbying Canada and its representatives are engaged in, which is hindering European attempts to do the right thing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The UK government should act for the future of its citizens, not for the benefit of the Canadian government and the oil industry.”