On June 28, a climate strike led by students in Edmonton was disrupted by another group of nearby Grade 12 students who had been taking graduation photos.
The climate strike group had booked the Alberta Legislature steps for the afternoon to protest several climate concerns. While one of the speakers was giving a land acknowledgement, the students taking grad photos came over and began shouting their support for pipelines to drown out the speaker’s words.
Next, a young man from the grad group came over to the speaker and tried to take the megaphone out of her hands. A protester from the crowd then jumped in and ran towards the student who was hassling the speaker. The police ended up taking the protester who stepped in into custody but they were eventually released without charges.
Torrance Coste, environmental movement organizer with the local branch of the non-profit Wilderness Committee, says the protest scene here in Greater Victoria is very different from the current state in Alberta. Less people support the pipelines here, he says. There are those who disagree with the various protests that take place, but in general, people are more supportive here.
“Some may walk by or drive by in their Dodge Ram and yell, but not to the degree of the issue in Edmonton,” says Coste.
Wraven Sibbeston, an organizer with Rise and Resist, a local action group, and an “independent radicalizer of urban Indigenous youth,” agrees with Coste.
“The most rebuttal we get is honking,” he says.
Coste feels it’s safer to voice your opinions here in Greater Victoria. The disagreement varies by subject matter — people here care more about the pipeline protests than old-growth forest rallies — but the dissent usually just involves some disapproving honking or a thumbs down, he says.
Coste has been on the other side of the situation. He and his fellow protesters attended a rally that was in favour of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but their goal was “conversation, not confrontation.” They set up a booth outside the rally with a sign saying that they were opposed to the actions, not the workers, and that they were open to talking with the pro-pipeline folks.
“Security was very worried due to the tension,” he says. However, Coste had made an effort to explain to the anti-pipeline folks that there would be no chanting or “duelling” with the pro-pipeline group. The goal, he says, is to be understanding and to have a “zero-tolerance policy for harassment.”
The folks who disrupted the climate strike in Edmonton were teenagers and raised in an environment that supports that behaviour, he says.
“The response is usually overwhelmingly positive at events [in Victoria],” Coste explains. However, he does acknowledge that he’s a white man who has likely had different experiences than others in the city.
Sibbeston says he hasn’t encountered violence, but he is aware of someone who was injured at an anti-SOGI rally in Victoria.
“Class, power and privilege play into [the protest experience],” says Coste.