06/28/2019 20:10 EDT | Updated 06/30/2019 01:04 EDT

Student Groups Tussle At Climate Justice Rally In Edmonton

A protester was giving a land acknowledgement when she was interrupted.

EDMONTON — Tensions flared on the steps of the Alberta legislature Friday, as a group of high school graduates scuffled with climate justice protesters.


The Student Climate March had made its way from Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton to the legislature grounds to protest the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the Alberta oilsands and other environmental issues.

Holding signs that read “No jobs on a dead planet,” and “We demand action on the climate crisis,” about 100 protesters encountered students from Memorial Composite High School in Stony Plain, who were posing on the grounds for graduation photos.

Some of the roughly two dozen grads began yelling at the marchers. 

Melanie Woods/HuffPost Canada
Graduating high school students yell at climate protesters gathered on Alberta's legislature grounds.

As Alyssa Tonnes was giving a land acknowledgement to mark the climate march, the grads congregated on the steps behind her and tried to drown her out by shouting, “Pipelines!”

“One of the guys was trying to get up in my face,” Tonnes, 17, told HuffPost in an interview. “I tried to keep continuing, I tried to block that out, and he tried to take the megaphone and I side-stepped away.”

At that point, another protester — who members of Edmonton Youth For Climate identified as “Jada” — rushed the male student. After the scuffle, Edmonton police took her into custody, and later released her without any charges.

“Everything was just a blur. All I know is after it finished, I looked up and there was a lady being arrested,” said Tonnes. “I expected it just to be peaceful, I really did.”

Melanie Woods/HuffPost Canada
A student from a group taking grad photos walked down to stand next to a protester who was speaking through a megaphone. 

Climate march organizers had booked the steps of the Alberta legislature in advance. Part of the area was closed for repairs and authorities had only been allowing a few people on the steps at a time, so it’s unclear how that many Memorial High students gained access to the legislature steps behind Tonnes.

Police on the scene told HuffPost they could not comment on the incident or how the Memorial students gained access. 

Following the altercation, both sides slowly dispersed. Memorial students resumed posing for photos, with some saying, “Pipelines!”, instead of “Cheese!”

Climate Justice Edmonton organizer Emma Jackson told HuffPost that the group plans to file a complaint to police regarding their handling of the incident.

Melanie Woods/HuffPost Canada
Protesters march through downtown Edmonton as part of the Student Climate March on June 28, 2019.

The Student Climate March was one of several recent events organized around climate justice in Edmonton in recent months.

Participants want to bring attention to the pro-pipeline policies of the Alberta government under Premier Jason Kenney as well as his predecessor Rachel Notley, said Abram Ilcisin, an organizer with Edmonton Youth for Climate.

“They disregard climate issues, they disregard the real issues Alberta is facing and they’re going to lead us to ruin in a few decades,” Ilcisin, 15, told HuffPost at the start of Friday’s march.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated Alyssa Tonnes is 15-years-old. She is actually 17.