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Edmonton Journal

Alberta Vows to Crackdown on Greenpeace Protesters

Richard Warnica And Darcy Henton

Greenpeace activists show their banner during a protest Thursday at an oilsands site in northern Alberta. (Photograph by: Handout, Canwest News Service)

A fuming Premier Ed Stelmach has vowed to punish Greenpeace activists to the full extent of the law after protesters invaded their third Alberta oilsands site in as many weeks on Saturday.

The group, an international team of activists, scaled three smoke stacks and one crane at the Shell Scotford upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan, just northeast of Edmonton -- part of a continuing bid

by the group to grab headlines ahead of global climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

"Most of these protesters are from outside the country of Canada. They are really tourists telling us how we should develop our resources," Stelmach told reporters at an event at the West Edmonton Mall.

"It's upsetting because it is putting people at risk. It is creating a fair amount of disruption which is going to cost consumers money in the end. More importantly, the efforts are really aimed at harming our economy, putting Albertans out of work, putting Canadians out of work and really diminishing our quality of life," said Stelmach.

He said he will be working with the companies involved to ensure the protesters are removed and arrested "and we don't put up with this kind of behaviour again."

Stelmach lamented that the protests are getting headlines around the world, but his government is having a difficult time getting out its message that it is working to reduce the environmental footprint of the oilsands.

"We've done so much in terms of advancing technology and it's always a struggle getting the news out," he said. "Behaviour like this will get attention, obviously, and they use social media to get the wrong message (out)."

Using recreational climbing gear and hand-held locks, the eco-activists occupied platforms, blocked ladders and unfurled anti-oilsands banners.

RCMP arrested three of the group just after 5 a. m., but another 16 remained locked in the sky-high towers into the evening.

The occupation came days after another group from Greenpeace chained themselves to four conveyor belts at a Suncor oilsands site north of Fort McMurray and weeks after a third team temporarily stopped production at Shell's Muskeg River mine.

Like the other two, Saturday's event was managed for maximum media impact. By 8 a. m., reporters were being directed to a website with streaming video and high-resolution photos from the protest. Outside the plant, meanwhile, a team of Greenpeace spokesmen were available to journalists throughout the day.

"We're here to raise awareness about the climate crime that is the tarsands," said Melina Laboucan-Massimo. "At this site they're expanding an upgrader, which is going to create more greenhouse gas emissions for Canada."

Shell Canada's manager of media relations, Phil Vircoe, said production at the plant was not affected by the occupation as construction had stopped for the weekend.

Vircoe said Shell has tried to reach out to Greenpeace and offered to talk, but it has refused.

Christopher Daley, an Australian, was atop one of the stacks. Reached by cellphone, he said the team's international makeup was no accident.

"Very, very few people outside of Canada were aware of the tarsands before Greenpeace began protesting them," he said. By bringing in a group from France, Germany, Brazil and Australia, he said they hope to create anti-oilsands sentiment in those countries ahead of the Copenhagen talks.

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