- Extinction Rebellion Québec, the movement behind the Jacques Cartier bridge climbers, is making the government aware of its role in mass extinction.
- MTL Blog got the chance to interview May Chiu, a member of the legal team, who gives sound advice about how the world can turn itself around in the face of climate change.
Extinction Rebellion is a global movement that began in the UK last year and has continued to spread ever since. In such a short time, the movement has made a large impact internationally. Since the birth of Extinction Rebellion Québec, its members have rebelled against government denial of the state of the environment.
Starting on October 7, Extinction Rebellion Québec celebrated la Semaine de la Rebellion, where its members hosted swarms and other protests all across the province in hopes of getting political attention. The action that got the most media attention was the event in which three members put their lives in danger as they climbed the Jacques Cartier bridge, to spread recognition of the global emergency of climate change.
But, the members of Extinction Rebellion Québec will not just stop acting against climate change because the week's events are over, they continue to fight to have their voices heard by the government every day.
I spoke with May Chiu, the coordinator of the legal support community for Extinction Rebellion Québec, who has been part of the group since its beginning and has a lot to say about our current economic and political systems.
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
What does Extinction Rebellion Québec do exactly?
We’re an apolitical group that is asking the government to act, that’s our biggest priority.
Extinction Rebellion Québec provides its members with civil disobedience training. In the training, members are taught their rights, like their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney, and how to conduct themselves in the face of authority during protests. They learn the most common criminal accusations that could be used against them, like mischief, obstruction, and participation in the crime, and the risks that come with committing acts of civil disobedience, so they can make informed decisions. For people who end up with criminal accusations, we have attorneys who will represent them.
It seems that the media is quick to portray Extinction Rebellion Québec as menacing. What’s your response to this criticism?
It’s not honest to label us as physically menacing. During protests, we hold up huge signs saying “non-violence.” At the moment of any arrests, nobody resists — the police can confirm. Action after action, there is no violence.
Our intention is, however, to threaten the industry, especially oil industries, and to be menacing to governments who are basically killing the planet and trying to kill us all, and bringing us closer and closer to mass extinction.
If you look at our world, we’re killing of 200 species every day, and we have nearly 200 million people who are living with severe food insecurities. The data links these millions of deaths to climate change. And governments and industries are proactively increasing the emissions that we emit every single year. For me, that’s trying to accelerate us to global suicide. And when I say suicide, I mean humanity, collectively.
Extinction Rebellion and the youth, we don’t want this – we don’t want to die! We want a future, and that’s why we’re fighting so desperately.
What message do you believe Extinction Rebellion Québec is getting across with their protests?
We’re bringing the message of climate emergency to the population. And yes, of course, we have people that complain that they were late or we disrupted their lives, but media representation gives us a chance to tell people that there are much more serious events, that will be much more disruptive than just being late for work, if we don’t take action against climate change.
How can the government change in order to help fight climate change?
We need to revise democracy. One of the criticisms of government I have is that after half a million people marched in Montreal in September, demanding action on climate change, the announcement from the Québec government was that we should cut down more trees and that Uber was good for the environment. So, there seems to be a total either denial or extreme ignorance on the part of the government in regard to the causes of climate change. The Québec government seems to serve the interest of big capital and industry rather than people.
Do you believe the CAQ fosters climate change denial?
It seems like it. Whoever hears of the minister of forestry saying, “let’s cut down more trees"?
Again, this is a personal reflection, not indicative of Extinction Rebellion Quebec, but it’s no coincidence that a government that suspends the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and clearly promotes xenophobia, is also hellbent on fighting people who are against climate change. The analysis that I have is that the government clearly denies the impact of climate change on climate refugees and the forced climate migrants. So, this is a way to make people afraid of minorities, refugees, and migrants, and a way for the government to set up the closing of our borders. So, for me, it’s not an accident.
What can the government do to help Extinction Rebellion reach its goals?
Well, it’s not one law. We’re in such a dire situation now that we’re in need of a national plan. All of humanity is facing a dire threat: the extinction of humanity. So, if we had one demand, it would be a massive overturning of the current economic system: capitalism.
In today’s world, we still think that even if the world is ending, we can still find a way to make a profit. We have to turn the system around and conduct ourselves into a new economic model of degrowth and sufficiency, and production based on our essential needs, not greed.
We’re calling for a systematic change. Everyone is working overtime, and this is causing us to overproduce. So, we need to envision a new economy where people work less.
We’re overproducing because society is convincing us to continue consuming. We’re told that we need to keep on consuming because that’s how we’re going to be happy. If you look at people with tons of possessions, I don’t think they’re happy. Consumerism just creates more dissatisfaction, more unnecessary needs.
Do you think the government plays a major role in shaping mainstream opinion when it comes to the environment?
As the government, they can take a leadership role, they can stop subsidizing. They are actively subsidizing industries, like forestry, gas and oil, that pollute our world. So, yeah, the government has a choice in orienting social desires. They should try to encourage and invest in fields that are relevant to our health, like education and health and social services.