Jenny Lau/the Gauntlet

Paradigm Shifter

Interview with Brigette DePape, rogue page

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Brigette DePape was a participant of the Canadian Senate Page Program when she stood in protest holding a “Stop Harper” sign during the 2011 Throne Speech. DePape knew she had to do something to alert Canadians to the dire consequences of the Harper agenda, despite fears of losing her job. The Gauntlet caught up with DePape at the Food Secure Canada conference in Edmonton on Nov. 4, to talk about what she has been doing since her dismissal and to get inside the mind of the 23-year-old activist.

The Gauntlet: What have you been up to since your dismissal from Parliament Hill?

Brigette DePape: Since then, I have been able to meet with so many people from all walks of life who are organizing in their community. We’re seeing an increasing trend of corporations deciding government policies and this is coming at the expense of what is good for people and communities. So it has been incredible to meet people who are exposing this and who are actively organizing so that people have control over their destinies. 

I mean, we’re in revolutionary times. From Occupy, to the movement against the pipelines, which has brought together such broad alliances of workers, of environmental groups and of indigenous groups, people are uniting for a common agenda for a healthy environment and healthy communities. 

G: How do you see young people fitting into this picture? Are enough youth getting involved in the political struggle? 

BD: We often have this myth that young people are apathetic and, while there are some young people who feel powerless, it has been my experience that young people really do care. It’s just that a lot of the time we feel powerless, and we feel there’s nothing that we can do in the face of these massive problems, like climate change and inequality. But I think there are many things that we can do, and in many ways we are beginning to reclaim our power. 

G: During the Food Secure Canada conference you mentioned your involvement with the climate change movement. Can you speak about this?

BD: It has been so exciting to be part of organizing the climate justice movement. The real vision for the climate justice movement is, instead of having our government invest in the tar sands and reject the Kyoto Accord, we believe in transitioning to a society that is based on green and just jobs. Oftentimes there’s this idea of a mutually exclusive dichotomy between jobs and the environment, but we know it is possible to create a society where we have green and just jobs and where people are able to meet their needs that is also environmentally responsible.

G: What insights did you gain from working on Parliament Hill? Is there anything you think Canadians should know about the inner-workings of their government? 

BD: One major aspect that I saw was the growing influence of corporations on our government policies and seeing how government is choosing to listen to corporations rather than its citizens. In the climate justice movement, we have tried petitions, we’ve tried lobbying, we’ve tried to meet with MPs. Often, Conservative MPs won’t even meet with us, yet, they will meet with the CEOs of big oil and gas companies, so there’s a real injustice there. I think that there really needs to be more of a focus on people power and growing people power. 

G: Can you speak a little on the topic of civil disobedience as a method for protest and how effective you see it being in Canada?

BD: If we look at it historically, civil disobedience has catalyzed some really key changes. The civil rights movement in the U.S. led to the end of racial segregation of lunch counters and buses, and sparked massive movements for ending institutionalized discrimination against people of colour. 

Civil disobedience has played a role in catalyzing massive change against the worst injustices, and it’s really inspiring to see that beginning to happen here in Canada as people are taking action to stop climate change and inequality. There’s been a growing movement as we see that our government is not responding to us. We are doing whatever means necessary to stop climate change and for equality, like we see with the sit-ins in B.C. against the Enbridge pipeline. We’ve also seen it with the Quebec student strike where hundreds of thousands marched in the streets in one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in North American history. 

G: What is the biggest challenge facing Canadians today?

BD: I think we are facing two overlapping crises. One is the economic crisis and the crisis of inequality where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the one per cent and not the 99 per cent. And the other crisis is climate change where the very survival of humanity is at stake. I think that there’s so much we can do collectively to build a sustainable future where it is an equal, green and just society.