Protesters shut down bridges in a handful of Canadian cities during the morning rush hour on Monday as part of an international effort to make the global climate crisis personal for commuters and alert them to the need for urgent political action.
People sporting the hourglass logo of the environmental group Extinction Rebellion blocked traffic on spans in Halifax, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. More than a dozen protesters were arrested in both Toronto and Halifax as police cleared roadways.
The protests did not attract the numbers seen in some European cities, where hundreds more activists turned out, but nonetheless sparked anger among drivers caught in major traffic delays.
Organizers with Extinction Rebellion, a group founded in Britain last year that has chapters in 50 countries, said disrupting traffic was a necessary, if inconvenient, tactic.
In Edmonton, a handful of protesters linked arms to block traffic on the Walterdale Bridge connecting the city’s south side with the downtown core. Police kept the peace between activists and angry drivers, some of whom got out of their cars to yell obscenities.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney criticized the protesters on Twitter, saying they were preventing people from getting to work and taking their kids to school.
“Somehow, this is all supposed to be in the name of environment, but hundreds of cars are now idling unnecessarily as they wait,” he wrote.
Susan Bibbing, a retired mother of four from West Vancouver, said she helped shut down the Burrard Street Bridge into downtown Vancouver at the tail end of the soggy morning rush hour because the climate science dictates “we only have a few years where we could reverse the destruction of our planet.”
Ms. Bibbing said she and and other protesters on the bridge wanted to jar passing motorists out of their everyday routine, not target individuals for their carbon footprints, a tactic she said has caused a lot of confusion about how to tackle this global issue. Political – not personal – changes are needed to bring about crucial systemic changes, she added.
“We need to be dealing on the municipal, provincial, federal and international level if we’re going to get any action,” she said mid-morning, as rain fell on about 150 fellow protesters expected to camp out on the bridge into the night. “We all know 100 companies in the world are responsible for 70 per cent of our carbon emissions.”
In Toronto, the local Extinction Rebellion committee selected the Bloor Viaduct for its protest, cutting off traffic west on Danforth Avenue at Broadview Avenue. Protesters brought signs, megaphones and drums, and were met by mounted police and squad cars.
“We’re trying to disrupt business as usual because it’s literally killing us,” James Sandham said. “Everyone knows we have to do something, but no one really knows what to do. What we do know is that we’re destroying the planet. This is the first step in forging a new path forward.”
Before the demonstration, Extinction Rebellion Toronto asked some of its members to volunteer for arrest. About 20 agreed. Around noon, the other demonstrators waited at the side of the road, and the volunteers stood in the middle of the street. Police began arresting them one by one around 12:30 p.m. and charged them all with mischief.
“They can arrest us, but we will still speak out,” said Jenny McQueen, sitting handcuffed near a police car. “The climate is in crisis. The extinction of animals is happening. Animal agriculture is out of control. The Amazon is burning.”
In Halifax, police moved in to end a demonstration at the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge after about four hours. They arrested 18 people on the artery linking the city to nearby Dartmouth. Early in the day, police said fewer than a hundred protesters, many of them waving flags and signs, had gathered near the toll plaza on the Dartmouth side.
In New York, protesters doused a famous statue of a charging bull near Wall Street with fake blood. Other activists splashed with red dye staged a “die-in” in front of the New York Stock Exchange – playing dead on the ground as tourists watched.
Demonstrators playing steel drums marched through central London to kick off two weeks of activities designed to disrupt the city.
In central Paris, hundreds locked arms or chained themselves together, while in Berlin, about 1,000 people gathered before dawn to block the Grosser Stern traffic circle in the German capital’s Tiergarten park.