Crowds gather across Nova Scotia to protest changes to Biodiversity Act

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The protests came a day after Liberal MLAs approved major changes advanced by Premier Iain Rankin to his Biodiversity Act. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
The protests came a day after Liberal MLAs approved major changes advanced by Premier Iain Rankin to his Biodiversity Act. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

People questioning Premier Iain Rankin's commitment to the environment stepped up measures on Tuesday with protests at Lands and Forestry offices across the province and rallies in several communities.

Sit-ins happened at 11 Lands and Forestry offices from Tusket to Sydney, as well as the premier's office in Halifax and Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter's constituency office in Windsor.

The protests came a day after Liberal MLAs approved major changes advanced by Rankin to his Biodiversity Act and on what marked the 23rd day of a hunger strike by protester Jacob Fillmore, who has been calling for a temporary moratorium on clear cutting until the substantive elements of the Lahey review on forestry practices are in place.

Fillmore told a crowd of more than 100 people gathered outside Province House that he was ending his hunger strike out of concerns for his health, but others, inspired by his effort, pledged to pick up the torch and keep the pressure on the government.

Jacob Fillmore is on day 23 of his hunger strike, which started as an effort to get a moratorium on clearcutting.
Jacob Fillmore is on day 23 of his hunger strike, which started as an effort to get a moratorium on clearcutting.(Michael Gorman/CBC)

"This can't be just one little action," said Nina Newington, one of nine people arrested in Digby County as part of a protest in December aimed at protecting mainland moose habitat.

"This is a shot across the bow of the government saying, 'We're taking the baton from Jacob.' We are stepping up, we are pleading to protect our forests from further destruction."

Newington was one of many people expressing frustration by the government's decision to change the Biodiversity Act in the face of a significant lobby effort that involved the forestry industry and some landowners.

"The government is mysteriously a lot deafer to us than it is to the forestry industry," she said.

"And this is a premier who came in, who got his spot because he promised to treat the climate change and biodiversity crisis as the emergency they are."

Nine protesters were arrested in Digby County in December after calling on the provincial government to protect a mainland moose habitat.
Nine protesters were arrested in Digby County in December after calling on the provincial government to protect a mainland moose habitat.(Nina Newington)

Following a broken promise last week of a meeting with Porter, Fillmore said he's no longer interested in a meeting with government officials unless they come to him.

Like others at the rally, Fillmore said he's not feeling good about the government's level of commitment to the environment right now.

"They have good words sometimes, but words are just a very small step in what has to happen," he said.

About 300 kilometres away, Sandra Phinney was protesting with several others at the Lands and Forestry office in Tusket, just outside Yarmouth.

Phinney, who was part of the group arrested for protesting in Digby County, said people are tired of waiting to see the government take meaningful action on the environment.

"We are facing one of the greatest disasters in our human lifetime that we can prevent, and it's climate change, it's deforestation," she said.

"Just where I live, there are floods in places where there shouldn't or wouldn't be if we had our forests. We're losing our animals, we're losing our birds and it's so dangerous."

Despite letter-writing campaigns and phone calls to politicians, a petition with thousands of signatures and Fillmore's hunger strike, nothing seemed to be sinking in with officials, said Phinney.

"We're fed up," she said.

"We're frustrated, we're angry, we're sad and we want a change."

Protesters gathered outside Province House on Tuesday to express their concerns about the government's approach to the environment.
Protesters gathered outside Province House on Tuesday to express their concerns about the government's approach to the environment.(Michael Gorman/CBC)

Rankin told reporters during his COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday that the Lahey review will not end clear cutting. He said he knows there are frustrations with the progress implementing the report, but he's committed to seeing it through.

"We're going to continue to implement the report," he said.

"For those that are really interested in evolving to ecological forestry, they should read the report and they should go over the different aspects that actually allow us to get to ecological forestry by working together and by sustaining the industry in the long run."

Two protesters who had glued their hands to the floor in the lobby of Rankin's office building were eventually removed and arrested.

Rankin spoke with one protester briefly and received a letter outlining their concerns with the government's approach to the environment.

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