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Canadian youth take calls for drastic climate action to the streets [UPDATED]

"We should take as a compliment that we are having so much impact that people want to silence us," 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said of her political critics

September 27, 2019  The Canadian Press

OTTAWA—The 16-year-old Swedish activist who started the global climate protest movement, pushing thousands of Canadians to the streets today, says she thinks the nasty backlash she has faced from some leaders is proof positive the message is getting across.

Greta Thunberg has been mocked and ridiculed by some of the world’s most powerful people, including U.S. President Donald Trump, who dismiss her calls to climate action as the musings of silly school girl. In Canada, People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier dismissed her as a mentally ill pawn of adults.

But Thunberg, who is in Montreal for a massive climate march on an international day of climate action, said that if adults are mocking children, then they must be feeling the heat.

“I don’t understand why grown-ups would choose to mock children and teenagers for just communicating and acting on the science when they could do something good instead,” she said in response to a reporter’s question.

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“But I guess they must feel like their world view or their interests or whatever it is, is threatened by us. We should take as a compliment that we are having so much impact that people want to silence us. We’ve become too loud for people to handle so they try to silence us.”

Thunberg began weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish legislature last year, which over the course of a few months grew into a global phenomenon. One week ago, millions of people around the world marched in protest against governments not taking drastic climate action. Another day of global protest is happening Friday, including in Canada.

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More than 300,000 people are expected at the march in Montreal, with tens of thousands more planning to march in 85 different Canadian cities and towns from St. John’s, to Tofino, B.C., and as far north as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.

Their message is clear: bolder action is urgently needed to save the planet from the crisis of climate change.

This entire week has become known as the “Week for Future”, starting with an emergency climate session at the United Nations on Monday where Thunberg lashed out at world leaders for not taking the climate crisis seriously enough.

On Friday, morning she met Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, whose quest for re-election next month is hinged on Canadians believing his party’s climate plan is enough to do Canada’s part for the planet. Thunberg said she told Trudeau the same thing she tells all world leaders.

“Just listen to the science,” she said.

Marches already took place earlier Friday in dozens of countries around the world including in India, the Netherlands and Italy. Thunberg said she believes 60,000 people took part in marches in her home country of Sweden, while 300,000 marched in New Zealand, more than three per cent of the country’s entire population.

“The strikes have been very successful today,” Thunberg said in Montreal.

“It is a very good day, I will say.”

The grassroots groups behind the Canadian marches have some specific demands, including refusing any new oil and gas projects and cutting emissions to be just one-quarter of what they were in 2005 by 2030.

“As a collective of young people from across the country, we aim to steer Canadian society off our current path of ecological and social catastrophe,” says the mandate of Climate Strike Canada, one of the groups spearheading the marches. “Drastic climate action is the only option for humanity.”

With most rallies scheduled for 11 a.m. local time in Canada, the protests got rolling first on the East Coast, with crowds gathering at Memorial University in St. John’s, and at Victoria Park in Halifax. In Newfoundland, the protesters were headed to the province’s legislature, some carrying signs critical of the province’s oil extraction industry.

In Halifax, marchers wound through the centre of the city and ended at the headquarters of Nova Scotia Power. Among the marchers was Cole Bunge, 17, with eight classmates from Dartmouth High School. He said his generation is looking for environmental policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

“I want to have grandchildren who can live in a healthy and happy world,” he said.

Julia Sampson, 17, helped organize the Halifax march. She is looking for specific policy changes, including major increases in provincial aid to promote green energy and inclusion of climate change science in school curricula.

“We need to see our province switching to renewable energies and a good way to do that is solar power for residential homeowners,” she said.

Some Canadian 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.

Several retailers and workplaces are closing to allow their staff to participate in events, including more than 200 Montreal businesses and organizations alone.

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, Green Leader Elizabeth May, and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet are all marching in Montreal.

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. 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.

—with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s and Michael Tutton in Halifax.