LONDON — The explosive debate around the Trans Mountain pipeline followed Justin Trudeau to Britain’s capital on Wednesday, as environmental activists confronted the prime minister with calls to cancel the contentious project.
The activists from Greenpeace UK sought to make their point with an elaborate protest that included erecting a fake pipeline around the Canadian High Commission next to iconic Trafalgar Square that was labelled “Crudeau Oil.”
Rappellers also scaled two of the diplomatic mission’s Greek-style pillars and unfurled large banners with the same words as British police and high commission staff stood passively on the sidewalk below and watched.
The 30 activists had simply hoped to make their message with Trudeau in town, but they actually saw him — albeit for only a few quick seconds — when he departed the high commission for an women’s rights event at city hall.
Trudeau didn’t stop to make small talk while walking briskly to a waiting car as the activists yelled “Climate leaders don’t build pipelines” and “Leave the tarsands in the ground,” but he did thank them for coming out.
Pat Venditti, campaigns director at Greenpeace UK, and who originally hails from Niagara, said the activists wanted to show their objections to the Trudeau government’s plan to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline.
“Many, many people oppose this, including First Nations, the province of British Columbia, the residents of Vancouver and Burnaby,” said Venditti, whose organization did not ask permission for the banners or fake pipeline.
“And we’re here to support them and to say if Mr. Trudeau wants to be a climate leader, he has to leave pipelines out of it.”
Climate change will figure prominently in Trudeau’s visit to London, where he will meet the Queen and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday before attending a Commonwealth leaders’ meeting on Thursday.
The Commonwealth is expected to specifically focus on ocean protection while Trudeau has made defending the environment a key priority for Canada’s G7 presidency this year.
Yet Venditti said it was “very hypocritical of the prime minister to be here in London talking about climate change while building a climate-wrecking pipeline that can only lead to more fossil fuels being burned.”
Trudeau has been struggling to resolve a veritable war between B.C. and Alberta over the Trans Mountain pipeline, which he supports in the hopes of increasing oil exports to Asia and decreasing Canada’s reliance on the U.S. market.
B.C. Premier John Horgan has said it opposes the pipeline over environmental concerns, despite what Trudeau says are historic investments in ocean protection and other measures to mitigate against environmental damage.
The prime minister convened a meeting with the premiers of those two provinces on Sunday, prior to his foreign trip to France and the U.K., after which he asserted that the pipeline would get built.
While the Greenpeace activists in London were clearly trying to make a splash, not everyone was impressed.
“I don’t think anything about the context, but this type of protest is narcissistic,” said bypasser Ares Nikolle, who was not aware of the Trans Mountain pipeline debate.
“Why don’t you get a lawyer and politicians to get the message through. Go through policies and make a meritorious argument that’s intelligent, researched and cited that actually weighs the pros and cons.”
Wednesday’s protest provided an unexpected start to what is expected to be a packed day of meetings for Trudeau in London, where he will also have an audience with the Queen.
Yet the real work will come when the prime minister sits down with his British counterpart as the two leaders look to compare notes on everything from Syria and Russia to Brexit and the Commonwealth.
Trudeau arrived in London on Tuesday night following a two-day stop in France where he and French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to strike up a solid political alliance aimed at advancing progressive policies on the world stage.
The U.K. is one of Canada’s most important allies, and Trudeau has been steadfast in supporting May’s criticism of Russia following the poisoning of a former Russian spy last month and last week’s airstrikes in Syria by British, French and U.S. forces.
However, Trudeau isn’t on the same wavelength with May the way he is with Macron, which suggests the tone and substance of the discussion could be very different.
The focus will be on laying the groundwork for a Canada-U.K. free trade agreement after Britain leaves the European Union, as well as mutual efforts to push back against Russian aggression and defending democracy in Europe.
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press