POLITICS
09/27/2019 08:37 EDT | Updated 09/27/2019 21:35 EDT

Climate Strike Takes Over Canada With Greta Thunberg In Montreal

Hundreds of thousands are marching, including Justin Trudeau.

OTTAWA — Thousands of Canadians are hitting the streets Friday demanding “widespread, systemic change” to halt the scary impact of a warming planet.

The massive protests will see students, climate activists and everyday Canadians who want a swifter government response to climate change marching on legislatures and municipal buildings, schools and parks, from St. John’s to Tofino, B.C., and as far north as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.

Things started off in St. John’s, where a crowd gathered at Memorial University’s clock tower shortly before 11 a.m. local time, some people holding signs protesting the province’s oil extraction industry. The group plans to make its way to the provincial legislature on Confederation Hill.

A number of international movements are coming together Friday for one, massive climate change demonstration at the end of what they call “Week for Future.” It is a phrase building on the Fridays for Future movement started last year by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, whose weekly Friday sit-ins outside the Swedish legislature grew into an global phenomenon.

Thunberg spoke at a rally in Montreal where hundreds of thousands were expected to march in the largest protest in the country. 

“I guess we will have to see how many turn out,” she told reporters. “I’m very excited to be here ... It’s a very good day, I must say.”

Thunberg was also seen meeting with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in Montreal on Friday. She revealed the meeting while speaking with reporters.

“I try not to focus so much on individuals,” she said. “He’s, of course, obviously not doing enough ... this is such a huge problem, this is a system that is wrong. So my message to all the politicians is the same: to just listen to the science and act on the science.”

WATCH: Trudeau says Liberals would plant two billion trees to combat climate change.

Trudeau said he thanked Thunberg for mobilizing so many people, particularly young people, around climate change. The Liberal leader, who has faced criticism for his government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline project, said he agrees with Thunberg that Ottawa needs to do more for the environment.

Trudeau has aligned himself with Thunberg on the campaign trail, praising the activism of young people and positioning the environment as a key issue. He has made a series of announcements this week aimed at reducing emissions, protecting oceans and habitat and encouraging conservation while simultaneously branding Scheer as a climate-change laggard.

There was another international climate strike day last Friday, and smaller events across the country last spring, but in Canada, the major events are taking place Friday.

More than 46,000 people signalled on Facebook they plan to attend the event in Vancouver, nearly 11,000 for Edmonton, and 5,000 in Halifax.

Some school boards and universities are cancelling classes during the protests, or telling students they will not be penalized for missing class during that time. Other school boards are being criticized for being less than fully supportive. The Winnipeg School Division is encouraging students to participate, but still marking them as absent if they miss class.

Students at Memorial University were offered academic amnesty for absences on Friday, and the province’s English school district said students would be excused from class with a guardian’s permission. Metrobus, St. John’s municipal transit system, is offering free rides between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. local time to accommodate participation in the climate strike.

Several retailers and workplaces are closing, at least for the duration of the protests, including Mountain Equipment Co-op, Lush Cosmetics, and Bridgehead Coffee in Ottawa.

Scheer not attending events

Coming as it is in the midst of Canada’s federal election campaign, four of the six mainstream party leaders will be marching. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is marching in Victoria. Trudeau and Green Leader Elizabeth May will both be in Montreal, where the Swedish schoolgirl who started it all will also attend. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet will also be at the Montreal march.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said there will be Conservative representation at the Montreal march, but he will not be attending any events. He has an announcement planned later Friday in British Columbia. People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, the only national party leader to deny climate change is a crisis caused by human activity, is campaigning in his home riding of Beauce in Quebec.

On Monday, Thunberg delivered a scathing rebuke to world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in New York City.

“For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear,” she told them. “How dare you look away.”

Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Activist Greta Thunberg is seen here leading the youth climate strike in New York City on Sept. 20, 2019.

Also on Monday, she filed a complaint with 15 other children alleging five UN members — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — failed to uphold their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by not doing enough to stop the climate crisis.

One of the world’s biggest emitters, the United States, is the only country that hasn’t ratified the convention.

Climate Strike Canada, one of the groups spearheading the marches, said in its mandate that it aims to “steer Canadian society off our current path of ecological and social catastrophe.” The group added: “Drastic climate action is the only option for humanity.”

Climate Strike Canada has a list of demands that includes:

  • Canada’s recognizing its “disproportionate role” in the climate crisis.
  • Enshrining the right to a healthy environment in law.
  • Rejecting any new fossil fuel development or transportation projects.
  • Setting “bold” targets to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to just one-quarter of what they were in 2005 by 2030.

Canada’s current goal is to cut them to 70 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, though Trudeau and May have both promised to exceed that and to make Canada carbon neutral by 2050.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2019

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated China hadn’t ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. is the only country that hasn’t ratified the convention.

With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter and HuffPost Canada