WPC: Canadian police overprepared for demonstrators at WPC

Most of the estimated 700 environmental and other activists who demonstrated peacefully Sunday at the start of 16th World Petroleum Congress (WPC) here apparently were back at their day jobs Monday. But WPC delegates are being treated to a large dose of environmental issues at this week's meeting. For the first time in the group's 67-year history, more than 25% of the discussions at this week's meeting center on social and environmental issues.


Sam Fletcher
OGJ Online

CALGARY�Most of the estimated 700 environmental and other activists who demonstrated peacefully Sunday at the start of 16th World Petroleum Congress (WPC) here apparently were back at their day jobs Monday.

Their leaders had called for them to take to the streets again at 6 a.m. Monday. But only about 150 showed up briefly at a later hour, seemingly heavily outnumbered by police. A metal fence erected by police to close off blocks around the Telus Convention Centre kept demonstrators almost out of sight and hearing of the 2,500 WPC delegates from 85 countries who are exchanging information and business cards here this week.

By midmorning, the remaining demonstrators had voluntarily disbursed, leaving behind a few handmade environmental banners and posters outside the fence. Some paused to demonstrate briefly for television cameras outside the downtown offices of a few Canadian oil companies. Others mounted "street theater" presentations in city parks, which some observers described as "amusing."

Environmental focus
Even if they didn't see much of the demonstrations, however, WPC delegates are being treated to a large dose of environmental issues at this week's meeting.

For the first time in the group's 67-year history, more than 25% of the discussions at this week's meeting center on social and environmental issues. That has prompted complaints from a few delegates who favor more-technical discussions tailored to energy development.

Some say it's the result of a general surrender to environmental pressure groups by European industry and governments. However, at the WPC's opening ceremony Sunday night, Prime Minister Jean Chr�en said, "We in Canada believe that climate change is real, that we must adapt, and that demand for low-carbon or carbon-free energy will grow."

Sunday's demonstration, organized by the Rally for Oil Accountability, included a colorful downtown parade, monitored and shepherded along by police. Among the more-whimsical environmental demonstrators were a group of bicycle-riders in dinosaur costumes and cowboy hats. A sign on one of the bikes proclaimed "Extinction stinks," but whether that message was pro-dinosaur or antioil was unclear.

Other demonstrators carried signs saying "Petroleum Kills." And a group of Calgary-based Sudanese carried the message "No Blood for Oil: Talisman Leave Sudan." Calgary-based Talisman Energy Corp. is a partner in a major oil project in Sudan. Critics have said its role has helped fuel a civil war and human rights abuses. Talisman denies those charges.

Jim Gray, chairman of the WPC, said the group respects the right of demonstrators to make their views known in a peaceful manner.

Residents of Calgary, Canada's oil capital, seemed to take the whole thing in good humor, although many appeared to dismiss the environmental messages of the demonstrators. "It's something to do on a sunny Sunday, but they don't know what they're talking about," said one observer, whose small children were attracted to the demonstration by the dinosaur costumes.

Canadian police were prepared to confront thousands of demonstrators and to prevent the type of rioting that threatened the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle late last year. Their action to fence off several blocks around the WPC site has disrupted some of the traffic flow in downtown Calgary, prompting some complaints of overreaction by police. However, local politicians defend those safeguards, which apparently are also endorsed by most Calgary residents.

One demonstrator was arrested Sunday when police tried to question him about the spiked collar he wore. Police also seized three potential weapons from other demonstrators�a baseball bat, a railroad spike, and what was described as a modified squeegee with metal spikes attached.

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