Sustainabiliteens protest outside North Van MP’s office

NOTE: This story has been updated since it was first posted.

Climate change. Systemic racism. COVID-19. All of them crises and none of them being adequately addressed by the federal government.

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That was the message from dozens of young protesters outside North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson’s office Friday morning.

The Sustainabiliteens group says any recovery from the pandemic must not return Canada to its pre-COVID status quo.

“We have seen a harrowing lack of action from the people designed to keep us and everything we care about safe, and we are here today to demand a better future,” said organizer Tavie Johnson. “We will not go back to normal after this pandemic because normal was a crisis.”

Among the demands of the group: abandoning future fossil fuel extraction and current subsidies, recognizing Indigenous rights, defunding police, expanding universal health care, and building green infrastructure and a green economy.

“We are demanding environmental justice along with social justice,” Johnson said.

Similar protests outside Liberal MPs’ offices were held around the Lower Mainland to mark one year since the September 2019 climate strike.

Ella, who goes by first name only and is co-founder of Black in B.C. Aid, stressed the interconnectedness of the crises. The harms of climate change and the pandemic are disproportionally impacting people of colour, due to lower socio economic status, lack of opportunity and systemic racism, she said.

“In talking about climate justice, folks like me are completely left out of the conversation. The legacy of anti-Black racism and how it is interwoven into the current social, economic, and political marginalization of Black people is something we do not talk about,” she said. “We must advocate for the humanity of Black lives in the same breath that we advocate for climate justice.”

Tsleil-Waututh Nation member Will George said he was grateful to have more allies in the fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and the increase in tanker traffic it would bring to Burrard Inlet.

“These are our spiritual highways. This is how our people got around. We still find artifacts on the beach,” he said. “This fight is not only an Indigenous problem. It’s an everybody problem. Quite often the fights are put onto the backs of Indigenous folks and we are spread so thin with how many other fights we have.”

George predicted the pipeline would never be completed.

“They can build 90 per cent of a pipeline, but that last 10 per cent, we will stop them here somerwhere. It will be a pretty imperfect pipeline,” he said.

In an interview Johnson said she wants the older generations who bear responsibility for the policies at the centre of the protest, to start listening to young people’s solutions.

“We want people to realize that youth have power. Youth have voices that are worth listening to. We're not just some kids who don't know what we're talking about. We do know what we're talking about,” she said.

Wilkinson was not available to comment on Friday.  In a statement sent on Saturday, Wilkinson said the protestors’ message for accelerated acion on climate change was heard loud and clear.

“While our number one priority is to keep Canadians safe and supported during the pandemic, it remains the case that climate change presents a looming threat to our health and economic wellbeing. I agree that we must take accelerated action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. That is why in our government’s recent Throne Speech we re-committed to enhanced climate action including immediately bringing forward our climate plan to exceed our 2030 ParisTarget and to legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.”

When he returns from Ottawa, he’ll find a mural painted onto the street in front of his West Esplanade constituency office declaring “We are not going back.”

This story has been updated to include a response from Wilkinson.

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