Environmental activists eye more ‘creative direct action’ protests against Harper government

Andy Radia
January 8, 2014

Monday's protest at a Stephen Harper event at the Vancouver Board of Trade was a little surreal.

Two protesters — impersonating wait staff and brandishing anti-climate change placards — made it within a couple of feet behind the prime minister during his Q&A with moderator Iain Black.

It was an example of something activists and protesters call 'creative direct action' which is essentially a creative demonstration used to maximize media and public attention.

According to the protest organizers', Harper and his government can expect a lot more of that sort of thing in 2014.

The group known as 'Shit Harper Did', or SHD, posted this fundraising plea on their website.

"[On Monday] four of us used radical security-breaching tools such as “black aprons purchased from a thrift store” and “press release emailed to journalists” to ruin a Conservative PR event and create a national media storm that reached millions of people across the country.

Our action gave journalists an opportunity to talk about stuff that actually matters like climate change and censorship. It was the top story on Google News, the top story on CBC’s The National and covered by every major media outlet in the country.

If four of us can do this in 24 hours, imagine what 1,000 of us could achieve together in the next year. Media coverage helps, but it won’t be enough. Nothing short of a cultural shift will bring about the kind of transformational system change we need.

The quality of life and many of the rights that we enjoy today have been won through hard fought campaigns of direct action and civil disobedience. With this in mind, 475+ people have attended one of 17 SHD workshops on the history and evolving practice of creative direct action."

In an email exchange with Yahoo Canada News, SHD spokesperson Sarah Berman says the workshops "highlight creative actions throughout history, including lunch sit-ins during the civil rights era."

[ Related: Two protesters get uncomfortably close to Prime Minister Harper at Vancouver event ]

They're not the only group ramping up their efforts.

Rising Tide: Vancouver Coast Salish Territories, a self-described grassroots environmental justice group, held their own non-violent direct creative action workshop last March. Agenda items included simple techniques for holding space, diversity of tactics and passive versus active resistance.

"When corporations aren't listening to the people, when governments aren't listening to the people, we have to put matters back into our own hands,” the group's Maryam Adrangi told the Georgia Straight newspaper last March.

Rising Tide was the group that, in November, set-up a mock rig at the home of B.C. Premier Christy Clark to protest fracking in that province.

[ More Politics: New Democrats laud Tory MP for ‘finally’ recognizing the impact of climate change ]

Meanwhile, a Conservative Senator is calling for tougher penalties for these types of activists.

In a statement sent to media on Wednesday, former Ontario solicitor general Bob Runciman expressed his dismay that the protesters involved in Monday's incident were not charged by RCMP.

"People who sneak into these kinds of events, using phony ID, impersonate others, or conspire with others to do the same, should face indictable offences with serious fines and/or imprisonment," Runciman said, according to CBC News.

"The decision not to charge two individuals who impersonated wait staff, avoided RCMP security and got to within a few feet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper trivializes a serious security breach and highlights the need for new laws to deter future improper attempts to gain entry to events where designated persons such as the prime minister or Governor General are present."

(Photo from Twitter)

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