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Police and firefighters ponder the situation as Greenpeace activists hang from the side of the Parliament Buildings with a banner criticizing the climate-change policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Chris Wattie/Reuters (CHRIS WATTIE)
Police and firefighters ponder the situation as Greenpeace activists hang from the side of the Parliament Buildings with a banner criticizing the climate-change policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Chris Wattie/Reuters (CHRIS WATTIE)

Green stunt leaves Hill security red-faced Add to ...

When Greenpeace activists scaled buildings on Parliament Hill yesterday in a high-profile effort to criticize Canada and its politicians over the country's position on global warming, they left nothing to chance, not even the green credentials of their calling cards, their massive banners.

The activists managed to unfurl over the Parliament Buildings banners made of ripstop nylon, the material used in hot-air balloons, which Greenpeace says is eco-friendly, and for an added green touch, non-toxic paints.

Greenpeace isn't saying how 19 demonstrators got on top of one of the country's most famous and heavily guarded landmarks, other than that climbing was involved.

"We don't necessarily talk too publicly about the hows because we find it distracts from the whys and that's what we see as the most important thing," spokeswoman Jessica Wilson said. "They didn't fly in."

The RCMP said in a statement last night that officers spotted the demonstrators at about 7:15 a.m. when they were already aloft and used "a measured response to bring a successful and safe end to these events." The RCMP said it has increased security measures on Parliament Hill pending a review of the incident.

The stunt, which led to 20 arrests, was timed to coincide with the opening day of the Copenhagen summit on climate change.

It is the fifth Greenpeace civil disobedience action dealing with climate change since September, including protests in Alberta over the oil sands.

A former RCMP officer who did not want to be identified said the ease with which the protesters got around the Parliament Buildings is a major embarrassment.

"Somebody [has got to be]up there asking: 'How the hell did these guys get in there?'" he said.

The 19 activists who placed the banners and one who remained on the ground assembled on Parliament Hill around 7 a.m. Five walked over to the Centre Block and started climbing the building. They managed to post an anti-oil-sands banner just to the east of the Peace Tower. The other 14 went to the top of the West Block, where they hung two 12-metre-by-seven-metre banners attacking Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

"We wanted to internationalize the tar sands as a global issue and embarrass Canada on the global stage," Ms. Wilson said.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice brushed aside the protest. "Well, the issue at Copenhagen isn't people climbing on the Parliament Building in Ottawa," he said.

Protests such as yesterday's would backfire if activists were injured or mistaken for terrorists, so those who participate use professional climbing gear and have extensive training. "They're definitely very skilled climbers. Safety is always of paramount importance," Ms. Wilson said.

The 14 who climbed the West Block may have used scaffolding at the back of the building to gain access. The last of them, dangling from ropes at the edge of the steeply pitched roof, were removed by an aerial fire ladder at midmorning.

Five protesters were escorted off an entrance-way tower to the Senate in the Centre Block about one hour after unfurling a large banner saying "Stop the oil sands." Police used a fire-truck-mounted ladder to get them down.

But it took more than two hours before police were able to make their way to the West Block roof.

The activists rappelled from a wrought iron fence that rings the roof of the West Block and hung banners saying "Harper/Ignatieff: Climate inaction costs lives," in English and French.

When authorities finally got to the roof, their first action was to take down the banners and signs.

With a report from The Canadian Press

 

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