NEWS
10/07/2019 11:13 EDT | Updated 10/07/2019 17:22 EDT

Climate Activists Cause Commuter Chaos In Major Canadian Cities

Protesters blocked traffic as part of a global effort for urgent action.

Protesters shut down traffic on major bridges across Canada on Monday as part of an international movement meant to galvanize governments into taking more urgent action against climate change.

Activists with the environmental group Extinction Rebellion blocked traffic on spans in Halifax, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, with similar demonstrations planned for Calgary and Victoria later in the day.

The Canadian protests did not attract the same numbers seen in some European cities where hundreds of activists turned out in force, but nonetheless sparked anger among people caught up in major traffic delays.

Extinction Rebellion’s Toronto chapter said disrupting traffic was a necessary, if inconvenient, tactic.

The protesters marched down to the bridge toll plaza waving flags and signs before congregating in an area near the tolls as police cruisers blocked traffic on routes leading to the bridge.

Members of the group usually sit or lie down in front of traffic until they are arrested and taken away by police officers. Such a scene played out in cities around the world throughout the day.

In Berlin, around 1,000 people gathered before dawn to block the Grosser Stern, a traffic circle in the middle of the German capital’s Tiergarten park dominated by the landmark Victory Column.

By lunchtime, another 300 people blocked Berlin’s central Potsdamer Platz, placing couches, tables, chairs and flowerpots on the road. Police said the protests were peaceful.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Protesters from the Extinction Rebellion group march towards the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge in Dartmouth, N.S., on Monday demanding action on climate change. 

“In a car-dependent city, interfering with traffic is one of the best ways of interfering with business as usual,” the group wrote in a Facebook post.

“We are not attempting to shame or blame drivers — we all live in a toxic system and have few good options in our daily lives without system change.”

Dozens of protesters showed up to block the Bloor Viaduct for between four and five hours. Police said they made 20 arrests at the end, but said the protests were peaceful.

Organizer Kevin Imrie said the recent turnout for global climate change marches suggests Canadians recognize the need for urgent climate change action even if they disagree with the group’s approach.

“I think most Canadians believe this is an important thing,” he said. “I think people would disagree with disruption, and I don’t blame them. It’s an extreme response, but it’s an extreme crisis.”

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS
A Halifax police officer walks beside his vehicle at the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge in preparation for the climate protests planned for Monday in several Canadian cities. 

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 workers from reaching their jobs and barring parents from taking 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.

As uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I have to do it.Lorna McLagen, protestor from Annapolis Royal, N.S.

The scene was more peaceful at Halifax’s Angus L. Macdonald Bridge, even when police moved in about four hours after the demonstration got underway.

Officers arrested 18 people positioned on the artery linking the city to nearby Dartmouth. Early in the day, police said less than a hundred protesters, many of them waving flags and signs, had gathered near the toll plaza on the Dartmouth side.

The Macdonald bridge was reopened to traffic by mid-day.

“I think this is a huge success,” protest organizer Patrick Yancey said just moments before he was arrested.

“I think it’s going to be great for the whole world to see all of the people who are willing to make this sacrifice in order to get some action on this climate crisis.”

Lorna McLagen of Annapolis Royal, N.S., was also among the group arrested. She said she felt compelled to act.

“I’ve been part of the problem for so long and now, before I die, I’d like to try to do something,” said McLagen. “As uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I have to do it.”

A protest slated to take place in Montreal was postponed until Tuesday due to rain.

Extinction Rebellion members usually sit or lie down in front of traffic until they are arrested and taken away by police officers. Such a scene played out in cities around the world throughout Monday, although some saw more dramatic efforts.

Taking action around the world

In New York City, 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 _ lying down as if dead while tourists watched.

Afterward, a few participants were seen mopping the fake blood off the ground.

“The blood of the world is here,” said Justin Becker, an organizer who made a link between the fossil fuel industry and the financial interests of Wall Street. “A lot of blood has been spilled by the decisions of the powerful and the status quo and the toxic system that we live in.”

Extinction Rebellion has chapters in 50 countries

Demonstrators playing steel drums marched through central London as they kicked off two weeks of activities designed to disrupt the city.

In Paris, hundreds either locked arms or chained themselves together in the city’s central square, while in Berlin about 1,000 people gathered before dawn to block the Grosser Stern traffic circle in the middle of the German capital’s Tiergarten park.

Founded in Britain last year, Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, now has chapters in some 50 countries. The group said the protests Monday were taking place in 60 cities worldwide.

— With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax, Beth Leighton in Vancouver and The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2019.