Climate Convergence Statement
November 13, 2021
On November 12, over 250 people gathered in downtown Vancouver for the “United for Climate Justice!” rally and march. This action was organized by 13 different Lower Mainland climate justice organizations to mark the last day of the COP26 United Nations Climate Summit. The plaza was filled with people from all walks of life coming together to demand climate action from the government of Canada, carrying beautiful banners and signs with strong messages, ready for a powerful united march through the streets of downtown Vancouver.
However, this peaceful gathering was severely disrupted when the Vancouver Police forcibly arrested three young climate justice activists. These young people were participating in a ceremony where they used washable red paint to leave handprints on the building housing the department of Environment and Climate Change.
We condemn this unprovoked aggression and attempted intimidation by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and reaffirm our commitment to gathering in public in defense of the planet in such a crucial time.
Prior to the VPD aggression, energy was high as people chanted together and listened to a dynamic program of speakers. This included Cedar George-Parker of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who gave a territorial welcome while also reminding people of the urgency of our united work for climate justice. Following Cedar was T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss, of the Squamish, Stolo, and Hawaiian descent. Participants also heard from a delegation of parents and toddlers from Babies for Climate Action and hip-hop artist Estea Elements. The diverse crowd, which included many families, students, and elders, listened respectfully and joined in chanting, clapping, and singing — happy to be holding space together and happy that the rain had held off as well.
Right as the march was about to begin, Vancouver police department officers moved in without warning. They surrounded three young activists and announced these activists were under arrest. It is important to note that the VPD knew that the action had a designated police liaison. They also knew that the march and rally was organized as a peaceful and inclusive gathering with no plan for arrests. In addition, the VPD was aware that Climate Convergence had initiated the action. Climate Convergence has organized dozens of public actions under similar conditions and without any arrests over the past three years. Despite this, the VPD decided to disrupt the peaceful demonstration through an overblown police presence and unprovoked arrests and brutality.
After the three young activists were isolated from the crowd by the police, rally organizers repeatedly tried to negotiate for their release. At the same time, the crowd of climate justice activists also stood its ground, chanting, “Release them now!” The VPD was told repeatedly and clearly that if they would release the three young activists, then the protest would leave the Department of Climate Change and Environment building and continue a peaceful march to CBC as planned. INSTEAD, the VPD chose to escalate the situation, calling in more officers, using their bicycles to strike, and injuring several people — before pushing the three young people into a police van and driving away.
At that point, there was no other choice to be made but to stand together with the three young climate justice activists and ensure that they were safe and released. The Solidarity Notes choir was already waiting for the arrival of the march outside of the CBC but the VPD had imposed on us no other option but to change course. Instead of marching to the CBC, we decided to march directly together to the police station at Cordova and Main, where the three young people had been taken.
More than 150 people embarked on a spirited solidarity march with the three young people arrested by the VPD. We continued chanting, drumming, and singing along the way. We stopped at busy intersections and let passersby know that we were marching in defense of mother earth and demanding the release of the three arrested young people. Along the way, we also heard from more speakers, including Jolene Andrew of the Wet’suwet’en & Gitxsan Nations, who spoke about the continued fight against the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline.
With this enthusiasm and commitment to solidarity, the march rallied on the street in front of the police station — making it clear we would not leave until all three young people were released. Drumming, chanting, singing, and rallying speeches from members of different climate justice organizations continued in front of a line of police officers.
After two hours, all three were successfully released! The first thing they saw was the 150 supporters who had stayed to make sure they were safe and released. We ensured that all three young climate activists were released that night with unity and commitment to protect each other and defend our rights to protest and fight back.
The November 12 march and rally, organized by a united front of Climate Convergence and 12 other grassroots climate justice organizations, was held at a very important and crucial time. This peaceful march and rally was a necessary response to the incredible failure of world leaders, including Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the COP26 climate summit. As we rallied, these so-called leaders refused to implement a real plan to confront the climate deepening crisis which is already responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and threatens millions more in the immediate future.
Within the climate justice movement, we continually see police attacks and brutality in violation of our human and democratic rights. This includes arresting Indigenous land defenders and allies as they peacefully assert their right to free, prior, and informed consent to resource extraction projects on their traditional territories. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People clearly outlines this right, which Canada has agreed to implement. Despite that, hundreds have been arrested in opposition to the Trans Mountain Expansion and Coastal Gaslink pipelines in just the last three years. Almost 1000 people have been arrested multiple times for defending Old Growth forests at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.
We refuse to be intimidated. We refuse to allow police to isolate and target climate justice activists. Given the failure at COP26, it is more necessary than ever to be organizing public protest — bringing people together and holding our so-called leaders accountable. We demand the VPD drop all charges against these three young activists and stop their attacks on climate justice organizers and Indigenous land defenders. We will continue to mobilize, educate, organize for a better and sustainable world — and we ask all peace loving and climate justice to join us in defending our rights and organizing for change. A better world is possible. System change, Not climate change!