Local climate activists take to the sidewalk

Robert Fisher photo Local activists Robert Graham, left, and Bob Johnson demonstrate outside the office of New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson on Sept. 9.

ST. STEPHEN – Passionate climate activists Robert (Bob) Johnson and Robert Graham are spending a couple hours each Friday in September demonstrating outside the offices of New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson and Saint Croix MLA Kathy Bockus.

Their message, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Williamson and Bockus, is that not nearly enough is being done to combat climate change and that all levels of government need to take much stronger action now to address the climate crisis.

“To try to persuade the world that Trudeau is not doing enough on climate change. He talks a good story, but in fact he’s not doing anything,” said Graham.

While only a group of two, their presence on the sidewalk has generated some controversy. On Sept. 2, they were seated on the sidewalk in front of Williamson’s constituency office when a representative from Heritage Management, the property manager for the building, told them they could not remain outside the building and that they had to move across the street. Sidewalks, however, are considered public property and citizens are free to inhabit the space as long as they are not disrupting other pedestrians, or causing a nuisance.

“Sidewalks are a public right of way,” Sgt. Scott McKenzie, with the RCMP St. Stephen detachment, confirmed. “As long as they were on the sidewalk and not on the steps, or property of the building, and weren’t causing a disturbance they should have been able to be there.”

Cpl. Hans Ouellette, Media Relations Officer for the RCMP in New Brunswick, also confirmed the information.

“Sidewalks are a public place. The right to peaceably protest is enshrined in our Charter as long as they were doing it in a safe, lawful and peaceable manner,” he said.

Calls to Heritage Management for comment were not returned before press time.

For his part, Williamson said, “People in this country have the right to protest and be heard,” and that the two men were welcome back anytime.

Williamson does disagree with the message Johnson and Graham want to deliver, and said his goal is to “bring down energy prices and get rid of the carbon tax,” and that New Brunswick families and businesses were hurting from “bone-crushing” energy prices.

The pair will have different messages on the climate theme directed at different levels of government each week. On Sept. 16, their message will be directed to Bockus and the provincial Progressive Conservative government, specifically the government’s plan to distribute $95 million of the carbon tax revenue out of the total $260 million. Johnson noted that the $95 million “goes back to fossil fuel industries in the province.” The $95 million is proposed to help reduce the cost of fuel at the pump and for natural gas heating via a rebate on gas bills, not to be given back to fossil fuel companies.

Asked if the pair planned to take their message to Saint Andrews when the federal Liberal caucus meetings are being held Sept. 13-15, Johnson stated, “It’s something we will think about, sure.”