Skip to main content

Two men were plucked from the side of the CN Tower and arrested yesterday, after what started out as a protest ended in a rescue more than 150 metres above the ground.

Steven Guilbeault, 31, and Chris Holden, 23, both activists with the environmental group Greenpeace, were arrested after they climbed the world's tallest free-standing structure early yesterday morning and hung a banner protesting against the position of Canada and the United States on a global warming accord.

They scaled the tower in three hours using steel maintenance wires and safety gear. But midway through the day, as the two were planning to make their 350-metre descent, it started to rain. Already tired from 10 hours in the air and only about halfway to the bottom, they had difficulty and had to be pulled off in a hanging maintenance basket.

"I don't think this cheapens it at all," Mr. Guilbeault said before he was rescued.

"Our goal was to come here, climb and get our message out, and that's what we did."

Exhausted and wet, but otherwise all right, the two men where whisked off in handcuffs to a police car as supporters cheered. Police say they will be charged with mischief.

The protest was in response to the Canadian and U.S. governments' stand on the 1997 Kyoto accord, an international agreement that commits countries to slash emissions of greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming. The United States -- the world's biggest polluter, accounting for roughly one quarter of global carbon-dioxide emissions -- withdrew its support of the accord earlier this year.

Many countries, including Canada, worry that signing the agreement would put them at a disadvantage when competing with U.S. firms.

World environment ministers are meeting in Bonn this week to decide whether to push the accord forward without the United States.

On the eve of the 12-day talks, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said his government would take until a Kyoto meeting in late October before deciding whether to ratify the accord without the participation of the United States.

"We have yet to reach a conclusion, as we are trying to seek ways to co-operate between the United States, Europe and Japan," he said, adding that his feeling was that no agreement will be reached Bonn.

Canada has been criticized for attempting to get credits for the fact that its forests absorb carbon dioxide produced by factories.

The Greenpeace banner unveiled in Toronto read: "Canada and Bush -- Climate Killers."

By 7 a.m., under sunny skies, the two climbers were nearly 350 metres up the tower, under the observation deck, and by 9 a.m. the banner was hung.

"It was a difficult climb," Mr. Guilbeault said.

"I've done climbing actions for Greenpeace in the past but nothing this high."

By noon, with the sky overcast and rain falling, the two were on their way down. Two hours later they called for the basket as a "precaution." Complying with a request from CN Tower staff, the two men brought the banner down with them.

Greenpeace had been planning the stunt for several months, and it was always an option to have the climbers brought down in the basket, said Steve Shallhorn, climate campaign director for the organization. CN Tower staff were not consulted.

"I wouldn't categorize this as a rescue. I would categorize this as the safest outcome," Mr. Shallhorn said.

"I think it was in the best interest of the tower staff, the emergency services and us to bring this to a quick conclusion."

CN Tower president Bud Purves was called at 4:30 a.m. and told about the climbers.

"I was disappointed that it was happening," Mr. Purves said. "I just thought: Well, we've got this situation; now let's deal with it. Our immediate concern was the height, and were they competent climbers."

Tower employees volunteered to take the basket up and get the men when they got stuck.

Interact with The Globe