Environmentalists kept from tar ponds announcement

By Greg McNeil
Cape Breton Post
Mon. Jan. 29, 2007

Sydney - Three environmentalists were denied access to the federal and provincial government’s unveiling of a plan to cap the tar ponds and coke oven sites.

Security at Membertou Trade and Convention Centre told Debbie Oullette, Marlene Kane and Bruno Marcocchio they were not allowed to attend Sunday’s announcement as they were trying to enter the building.

They think the action taken against them was based on a protest they took part in blocks away on Alexandra Street. "We carried around signs that said solidification and stabilization is not a proven technology on the tar ponds, which is exactly what they (Joint Review) panel said in their conclusions," said a surprised Kane who thought they were being respectful by carrying the signs four blocks away. "Because we carried those signs and came up here and tried to get into the meeting without signs, security guards told us that government - federal government and provincial government - have denied our entry into the meetings."

Parker Donham, Sydney Tar Ponds Agency spokesperson, said many environmentalists were at the announcement. "The people who were turned away were people who showed up with signs and with a long history of extreme disruption at meetings."

Donham singled out Marcocchio and said a plan was in place for Sunday’s meeting should he "act out." "We had given it a lot of thought and had concluded we would let him in. If he was disruptive, we had a planned series of phased warnings we were going to give him that would have eventually ended in his expulsion. "When he showed up with a bunch of large signs wanting to get in the hall, we told him ‘No,’ or the security told them ‘No’. So they put their signs away and then they came back." Then a communications officer Donham would not name decided not to admit the group. "Those who showed up with placards clearly trying to hijack the meeting for their purposes, we don’t have any obligation to assist them in that effort of manipulation. "

Marcocchio said the group was in Membertou to listen "just like anyone else" and did not intend to be disruptive. "Besides, since when do our Constitutional rights get pre-emptively stricken if there is a perception we may engage in a peaceful protest? This is outrageous. It is one of the most fundamental rights in a democracy to be able to carry a placard and peacefully demonstrate and make your concerns known."