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Montrealers march to send message on climate inaction

The turnout for Saturday’s Global Day for Climate Justice was a fraction of the 500,000 people who joined Greta Thunberg in the streets of Montreal last year, but the message was loud and clear as a coalition of groups gathered in the streets to protest against government inaction on climate change and other social issues.

“I listened to the Speech from the Throne and there were a lot of words, but now we want to see some action,” said Vancouver chef and indigenous activist Marlene Hale, a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, which has been fighting the construction of pipelines in British Columbia.

While the coalition is calling for carbon neutrality by 2030, it was one of several demands made by the group of about 1,000 mostly young activists who marched from Place du Canada through the downtown streets.

They are seeking protection of migrant rights in Quebec and Canada, full recognition of Indigenous right to self-determination and the defunding and demilitarization of police services.

Elijah Olise, an organizer with the racial justice collective, said climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed, not ignored.

“The climate can’t be swept underneath the rug,” he said. “We have a deadline and if we don’t reach those deadlines, there will be serious consequences.”

Olise noted climate change is a social problem because it has a disproportionate negative effect on people of colour and marginalized groups.

Lylou Sehili, the co-spokesperson for the Student Coalition for an Environmental and Social Shift (CEVES), said there is an advantage in bringing together different social protests in the same movement.

“There may be people who are going to be afraid, but these causes go hand-in-hand. Everything is connected, everything comes from the same system of oppression,” she said.

“These police forces operate on the principles of an oppressive state, the colonization made on the lands of the Wet’suwet’en nation in British Columbia to exploit oil. It is the same oppression that is present in the SPVM (Montreal police) report, which indicates that Natives are more likely to be subjected to police arrests. We cannot exclude social justice from the climate fight,” she said.

The turnout for the demonstration was probably affected by the Quebec government’s decision to declare Montreal an orange zone after a spike in positive COVID-19 cases over the past week. All the demonstrators wore face masks and organizers insisted social distancing be respected.

Th crowd was devoid of any political figures, a contrast to last year when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among those who jumped on the Thunberg bandwagon.

The march began at the foot of what was once the John A. Macdonald statue and a group called For Our Kids arranged dozens of pairs of children’s shoes, slippers and boots at the base of the monument.

“The shoes represent the children who are affected by the climate change crisis,” said Dr. Kelly Martin, an emergency room doctor in Montreal and a member of For Our Kids. “The shoes are empty to represent the bleakness of their future.

“These are our own kids, our grandchildren, our neighbour’s kids and we have a moral obligation to protect kids,” Martin said. “It’s not up to the kids to solve the climate change crisis that we created. It’s up to governments to recognize the immediacy of climate change. We cannot keep on living like we’re living.”

Martin said she has seen the effects of climate change in her practice. She said there has been an uptick in asthma and other respiratory ailments, and pandemics such as the coronavirus can be linked to climate change.

The march was one of more than 3,000 similar demonstrations across the globe, with most of the others being staged on Friday.

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