As David Suzuki is set to receive his honorary degree from the University of Alberta this Thursday, several pro-oil and gas groups are planning to protest at the convocation ceremony.
The protest, which has a Facebook event page, is being organized by two groups claiming to support the oil industry: Canada Action and Rally 4 Resources. The protest is set to begin on June 7 at 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes before Suzuki’s convocation is set to begin and will be held outside the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium where the ceremony will take place.
Additionally, the two groups organizing the protest have plans to bus people from Calgary and Red Deer to Edmonton. The group also organized the pro-pipeline rally outside the Alberta legislature in April where protestors voiced their support for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which was being opposed by the B.C. government.
Due to Suzuki’s criticisms of the oil and gas industry, the U of A’s decision to award the scientist an honorary degree has been met with opposition. In April, deans from the Faculty of Engineering and the Alberta School of Business wrote open letters to voice their disappointment with the move.
Additionally, Moodys Gartner, a Calgary-based law firm, terminated their $100,000 financial commitment to the Faculty of Law in protest of the decision. Later, that money was redirected to the Students’ Union.
U of A president David Turpin has since defended the decision to give an honorary degree to Suzuki, saying it aligns with the university’s mission of promoting discussion.
“The university must give people the space and support they need to think independently without fear of external control or reprisal,” Turpin said in a statement.
As of publication, 50 people responded as going to the event on Facebook, with 429 people saying they’re interested in attending.
One person who responded on Facebook as going to the protest is Sandy Pon, an Edmonton-based realtor who ran for a Conservative Party nomination in 2015. Pon said the university’s decision to give Suzuki an honorary degree is “insensitive” to Albertans as the province is struggling to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built, which will help export Alberta oil to other markets.
“They could’ve selected so many recipients,” Pon said. “They can give Dr. David Suzuki a degree at a later time, maybe. But at this particular period of time, it’s a little too insensitive… knowing that the economy of Alberta is suffering.”
In addition to the protest, a petition demanding the U of A to reverse its decision to give Suzuki an honorary degree can be found on Canada Action’s website. The petition has over 28,000 signatures.
Marcel Roth, director of University of Alberta Protective Services, said campus security is aware of the planned protests at the convocation ceremony, and that people are free to express their views regarding Suzuki’s honorary degree. Roth added that UAPS will react appropriately to maintain a safe environment at the event.
“We recognize all individuals’ right to express their opposition to or support for Dr. Suzuki and his views,” Roth said. “Our priority is to ensure the safety of our graduates and guests, faculty and staff at the convocation ceremony.”