Tar ponds protesters want an apology

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Tues., Jan. 30, 2007

SYDNEY - Demonstrators denied access to a government announcement regarding the tar ponds cleanup are asking for a public apology.

"I was completely shocked that they were stopping me at the door and saying I couldn't come in because I was protesting three blocks away," said Marlene Kane, a longtime environmental activist living in Sydney. "I wanted them to give me a reason."

It wasn't until Monday that Kane learned that Hubert Jacquin, senior public relations officer at Public Works and Governments Services Canada, made the decision to stop the group of protesters from entering.

"I didn't know who they were," said Jacquin.

About 30 minutes before the announcement, he was approached by security who informed him the group was at the entrance. Earlier in the day, the group demonstrated against plans to solidify and stabilize the tar ponds and coke oven sites.

The protest was held on Alexandra Street in Sydney, about three blocks from the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre in Membertou.

Kane said they had signs but stored them in their cars before they drove to the centre. "None of us were carrying signs," she said. "We intentionally protested on Alexandra Street so as to not disrupt the meeting at Membertou."

Jacquin said his decision wouldn't have changed if he knew who the protesters were. "It had nothing to do with who they were, it had everything to do with their clearly demonstrated, visibly demonstrated intention to disturb the proceedings. The decision was made that whether they left their placards or signs behind, it made no difference to us."

So, instead of learning the remediation plans from inside Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, the group was forced to wait in the cold for more than an hour. "We wanted everyone in the room to be respectful of what was going on," Jacquin said. "It is an issue of being decent and polite. Of course there is freedom of speech, but there is also a requirement for decorum and respect for whatever announcement is being made. "

Debbie Ouellette, another protester denied access, is also seeking a public apology. Bruno Marcocchio, a Sierra Club of Canada representative, was also refused entry.

The three attended full panel review hearings held in Sydney in May and made formal presentations denouncing incineration and solidification and stabilization plans proposed by governments, stating it's not a proven method. A fourth protester eventually made it into the session.

Kane said she hasn't disrupted a meeting in the 10 years she participated in the project and has always conducted herself appropriately and peacefully.