Sending a Warning: The XR Climate Emergency Camp at the Prime Minister’s Front Door

By: Ann Cognito and Eric Rebel

This article was submitted for the Spring 2020 PEN, but had to be left out due to space constraints. Instead, we are publishing it here, and will run an updated version in the Summer 2020 edition.

In early 2019, Ann Cognito had a vision. The fifty-year-old Calgary woman decided enough was enough! Something needed to be done about the ecological and climate crises that were (and still are) descending upon us. Ann had serious physical health issues, autism, agoraphobia, C-PTSD and related issues, including panic disorder. She seemed like an unlikely candidate to do something about it, but then who would have guessed Greta Thunberg would become a global climate action leader? 

On April 20th, 2019, Ann and her service dog Mr. Myrtle Sir started their long trek from Calgary to Ottawa. They walked with a scooter and a dog trailer. Almost six months later, she arrived in Ottawa determined to confront the government and insist that they ACT NOW to confront the crises! 

In order to pressure the government and raise public awareness of the crises, Ann resolved to create the Climate Emergency Camp in the park across from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). She worked with the local Ottawa chapter of Extinction Rebellion (XR) for several weeks to plan it all. On December 5th, 2019, it was begun— the first tents went up and the banners unfurled. The Climate Emergency Camp stood just a crosswalk away from the PMO. 

Climate justice activists at the Climate Emergency Camp protesting the Teck Frontier Mine proposal. Photo credit: Extinction Rebellion Ottawa.

Ann and XR Ottawa demand that she be granted a meeting with the Prime Minister so that she may deliver her open letter (available for signing on change.org) and call upon them to commit to the three demands of Extinction Rebellion: 

TELL THE TRUTH. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change; 

ACT NOW. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; 

BEYOND POLITICS. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice. 

After that, Ann intends to stay at the Climate Emergency Camp until the government has not only committed to action, but is indeed acting upon that commitment. Remember that the Liberal government has promised to: (a) declare and act on a climate emergency, and (b) ban single-use plastics by 2021. Unfortunately, the promises of this government and governments past have not been kept. However, as most the world’s environmental scientists are saying, this crisis is undeniably real. Anything less than immediate action is not an option. Anything less is not enough. 

Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 5.48.56 PM
Cold weather at the Climate Emergency Camp didn’t stop activists.

The weather was cold and unforgiving at times, and both challenged Ann’s health issues, requiring her brief absence from the Climate Emergency Camp. However, with the help of dedicated XR Ottawa rebels and members of the public, the camp continued. Ann has now returned to a recent swell of public support: banners from other climate justice organizations, tents to help shelter more volunteers, and donated goods from local people. 

Several Members of Parliament have also chosen to show solidarity by visiting the Climate Emergency Camp, including: Heather McPherson (MP for Edmonton- Strathcona), Leah Gazan (MP for Winnipeg Centre), Matthew Green (MP for Hamilton Centre), Paul Manly (MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith), and Romeo Saganash (former MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou). 

As the climate and ecological crises are exacerbated, the climate justice movement ralliesXRblurb at the Climate Emergency Camp to express their fear and anger at the government’s inaction. Will the Prime Minister open his door and finally meet with Ann? Regardless of outcome, Ann Cognito, Mr. Myrtle Sir, XR Ottawa, climate justice activists, and, increasingly, the public will remain at the Prime Minister’s front door. Regardless of outcome, anything less is not enough.

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