Extinction Rebellion protesters were planning to cut off traffic, much like they had done on the Granville Street bridge a day earlier. But this time, they wouldn’t be able to hit the road. The police did not let them disrupt what the VPD called “critical infrastructure”. Seven people were arrested, five of them were taken to prison.
“I was arrested for walking on the sidewalk,” Zain Haq said as he was handcuffed and escorted into the back of a police van.
The Extinction Rebellion group staged protests each of the first three days of May, a series dubbed the “Spring Rebellion”. This is the latest effort to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of the fossil fuel industry, namely the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project.
The government-purchased project is to twin the existing 1,150-kilometer pipeline between Alberta and British Columbia. It will add 980 kilometers of new pipeline and increase capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day.
“The Canadian government is committing to the destruction of this country through inaction on this climate emergency,” said Haq, who said he was a student at Simon Fraser University.
But social movement experts say their efforts could also work against them when it comes to public sentiment.
“If people don’t necessarily have sympathy for them or are inconvenienced, it can lead to a negative orientation towards the group,” said David Tindall, professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia specializing in movements. social.
“A lot of these people believe there is a crisis, and the fact that they believe there is a crisis justifies creating a crisis for other people, such as not being able to cross the Lions Gate Bridge.”
Inside the rebellion
Extinction Rebellion sees itself as a “flat” organization with a minimal hierarchy.
That’s according to Brent Eichler, who was the group’s spokesperson at Monday’s protest. He says the position rotates between the members day to day.
“We make decisions as a group,” he said. “Today, I am a spokesperson, sometimes I am an organizer, sometimes I am the person who carries the flags to action. “
Eichler is a daytime internet installer. He is also president of Unifor Local 950. The private sector union has long opposed the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
He says he’s been an conservationist since he was a child and grew up in the forests of British Columbia. Like other members, Eichler participated in the Occupy movement ten years ago and the Trans Mountain protests staged at Burnaby Mountain in recent years.
Eichler says he recognizes that the group’s actions can be polarizing, but he says members see no other way to get their point across.
“It’s obvious to me that walking the streets doesn’t work and signing petitions doesn’t work. We have to go to the streets and oppose business as usual, ”he said.
A need for diversity
The Extinction Rebellion group, originally from the UK, is a decentralized group with members all over the world. Among the criticisms directed at them, there is a lack of diversity within. Its members are predominantly white and from the middle class.
“We’re trying to diversify, but I would say that’s a problem for us,” Eichler said. “We have young and old, we have men and women, we have people who identify as other genders. “
David Tindall says the environmental movement has historically skewed white, as in recent years environmental groups have attempted to forge relationships with indigenous communities.
But he says groups attending protests like Extinction Rebellion don’t necessarily reflect the overall range of people who might support the movement.
“When there is a risk of being arrested, there are a lot of people who don’t want to put themselves in that position… but they could still support the groups,” he said.
The group has planned further disruption until May 5.