On September 16, thousands of protestors took to downtown Toronto for the Global March to End Fossil Fuels, a demonstration that focused on combating the corporate causes of the climate crisis.
More than 14 activist groups — ranging from the student organization Climate Justice UofT (CJ UofT) to grassroots community group Grand(m)others Act to Save the Planet — helped to organize the protest, which took place as part of a global weekend of activism ahead of the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Ambition Summit in New York City. Fifty to 100 CJ UofT members attended the rally, according to Amy Mann, one of the group’s organizers.
Protesters began gathering on the south side of Queen’s Park in front of Ontario’s Legislative Building at around 11:00 am. The protest began with speeches from ten activists aligned with various climate justice organizations and a prayer to honour water led by Cathy Walker, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community healer and herbalist.
Walker highlighted the particular impacts environmental degradation and fossil fuel companies’ extractive practices have on Indigenous peoples. “Every reserve is struggling to hold on little bits of their land that was promised to them,” she said. “Every reserve is affected by the extraction industry, from precious metals, oil, lumber, even water.”
Mann gave a speech where she criticized U of T for accepting donations from fossil fuel companies to fund its research. “We’re here today to tell [the university] that we don’t need any more sustainability initiatives. We need our universities to stop behaving like corporations,” she said.
CJ UofT has previously criticized the university for accepting fossil fuel funding for its research, arguing that it poses a conflict of interest. In a previous statement to The Varsity regarding student criticism about accepting funding from fossil fuel companies, a U of T spokesperson highlighted university policies meant “to guard against undue influence on research,” such as the Provostial Guidelines on Donations.
Around noon, protesters began marching from Queen’s Park to Wellesley Street West, down Yonge Street, and then onto Dundas Street West. A mobile band marching with the protestors, including drummers, a tuba, and an electric violin played music, and people in costumes spotted the crowd.
As the protesters marched through Toronto’s financial district, attendees began chants criticizing the financial firms based in the area.
Protest chants included “Bay Street, Yonge Street, listen, listen up. The planet is dying, it’s time to give a fuck” and “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Greenwashing has got to go.” The term ‘greenwashing’ refers to the practice of corporations exaggerating the sustainability of their business practices.
As the protest continued past a RBC branch along the route, many protestors chanted, “Royal Bank of Coal” — referring to RBC’s status as the world’s largest financier of fossil fuel companies as of 2022.
In a statement to The Varsity, Shauna Cook, RBC’s director of communications for the Greater Toronto Region, wrote, “When it comes to climate change, we strongly believe that more action and at a faster pace is needed to address it. We are actively engaging with our clients and partners to identify opportunities to do more in delivering on shared objectives.”
The march proceeded up University Avenue and ended at Queen’s Park around 1:45 pm.
More than a hundred U of T students attended the protest.
Atlas, the Sustainability Commissioner at the Victoria University Student Administrative Council and a member of CJ UofT, told The Varsity that students have been key organizers of recent climate change activism because they tend to not have full-time work schedules and are motivated by their futures being most at risk from the climate crisis.
“In history, you see a lot of major radical movements led by students front and centre, and I do believe this is one of them,” they said.
In an interview with The Varsity, Harshit Gujral, a U of T PhD student in computer science and the School of the Environment who attended the protest, noted a personal connection between their research and activism. “My research is about climate change, and it just feels like having double standards to do the research and not be here,” he said. “Activism is part of that whole package.”
Hana Darling-Wolf, who is pursuing her master’s degree in computer science at U of T, told The Varsity that there seemed to be fewer protesters at the march compared to last year and or to other cities’ marches. She said she had hoped more people would come out to protest.
In interviews with The Varsity, current and former U of T students emphasized the role of large corporations in perpetuating the climate crisis causing climate change.
U of T alum Aliénor Rougeot, who graduated from UTSG in 2021 with majors in economics and public policy, is currently the Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence — one of the groups that organized the protest.
In an interview with The Varsity, Rougeot said that the protest’s focus on corporate complicity in the climate crisis and “targeted anger at the fossil fuel industry” made it unique compared to previous demonstrations. “Given the disproportionate role the fossil fuel industry is playing in our emission and in blocking climate action in Canada, I think it’s essential that we target them [and] we call them out,” she said.
According to a 2017 global survey, only 100 corporations and government-owned entities released more than 70 per cent of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions between 1988 and 2017. One-fifth of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions are funded by government investments. A 2023 report found that the production, transport, and processing of oil and gas alone accounted for 15 per cent of global energy-related emissions in 2022.
The coalition of climate justice groups that planned the protest demanded that the federal government cap the oil and gas industry’s emissions, forcing them to reduce their emissions to 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. They also called for the government to shut down the Trans Mountain pipeline — which crosses Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation traditional territory — and the Coastal GasLink pipeline — a contentious project crossing Wet’suwet’en territory and protested by many members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, which has violated dozens of BC environmental regulations.
They also demanded that the government end subsidies for fossil fuel companies, which amounted to at least $18 billion in 2020.
The protesters also called on the Ontario government to halt current plans to build more gas plants. Between 2017 and 2022, the proportion of Ontario’s electricity supplied by gas and oil plants more than doubled, from four per cent to 10.4 per cent. Earlier this year, the Ford government opened bids to build additional gas plants or to expand existing plants, despite federal recommendations to phase out electricity from fossil fuels.
With files from Mekhi Quarshie