Pink paint splashed over artist Tom Thomson’s iconic Northern River.

A topless protester interrupts the Juno Awards with environmental messages of “land back” and “save the Greenbelt” across her torso.

A shutdown of key bridges and intersections throughout Ottawa.

These are some of the protest actions by Last Generation Canada, an environmental activist group formerly known as On2Ottawa. Now, the group is rebranding to align with an international climate movement network called A22, as it prepares for a new wave of direct action and demands in the nation’s capital.

The new name is an amendment of Last Generation’s counterpart in Germany, which maintains this is the last generation to stop climate collapse, while also being the first to effect change in society.

A Last Generation Canada (formerly On2Ottawa) activist splashes paint over the frame of Tom Thomson's Northern River.

However, the group is also multigenerational, with activists stretching from university age to retirement. One member was arrested at age 87 during one of the protests last year.

Supporter Gillian Graham, 23, told Canada’s National Observer that many of the activists in the group are fed up with climate marches, climate strikes, calls to government and petitions. Direct actions that disrupt daily life and force the hand of governments became one of the only courses of action, they believe.

Last Generation Canada is aligning with an international climate movement network called A22 as it prepares for a new wave of direct action and demands in the nation’s capital.

“Even I'm fed up. Even I realized that the government is not listening to us and is not trying to change,” she said, pointing to Canada’s rising emissions at a time when the world continues to warm to dangerous levels.

The group’s keystone demand is the creation of a national firefighting agency, a move that is echoed by the federal NDP and Green Party. The group is also demanding citizen assemblies — a group of people selected to make policy decisions and help solve climate issues.

The demand centres on the creation of a federal agency of 50,000 firefighters who can be deployed to support provincial wildland firefighting agencies.

Currently, provinces are responsible for wildland firefighting, while the federal government can deploy the military if support is needed. Depleted or stretched provincial wildfire forces are supplemented by other provinces or countries.

Last year’s wildfire season was one of the worst in the country’s history. Emissions from Canadian wildfires amounted to over two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, greater than the total emissions of 100 countries.

There was also a severe human cost to the season, marked by catastrophic wildfires hot enough to burn through several cities. Last year alone, huge swaths of Enterprise in the Northwest Territories, Skwlāx te Secwepemcúl̓ecw in British Columbia, and East Prairie Métis Settlement in northern Alberta, among others, burned in megafires.

Last year, Canada’s National Observer investigated the human cost of inaction on wildfires, with Indigenous nations facing a disproportionate impact. Over 95 First Nations were evacuated last year alone, nearly double the number of communities evacuated in the previous worst wildfire season.

Last Generation Canada (formerly On2Ottawa) activists block a road in Ottawa's downtown core last summer. Photo submitted

Graham also points to the eight firefighters who died in the line of duty last year as another reason why Ottawa needs to do more to ensure provincial wildland firefighters are supported by a strong federal agency.

However, the group’s new wave of protests is not well-received by authorities, Graham noted. For example, Laura Sullivan, a Last Generation Canada spokesperson, who previously spoke to Canada’s National Observer, is no longer allowed to speak to media, post on social media for the group or give public talks, Graham said. Sullivan has now been released of that condition, Graham added.

Other activists have been banned from Ontario, the downtown core of Ottawa, and from communicating with other group members.

“The police repression was so bad,” Graham said about Last Generation Canada’s last wave of actions. In contrast, Graham points to conversations with activists from Last Generation Austria, who say they receive slaps on the wrist from their country's criminal system, allowing them to continue to hit the streets.

Meanwhile, police in Canada have been criticized by some observers for their aggressive tactics, particularly toward environmental and Indigenous activists in B.C., she noted. Some are concerned, for example, about the RCMP unit called the Community-Industry Response Group, which was involved with environmental and Indigenous activists at Fairy Creek logging protests and in Wet’suwet’en territory.

Graham also recognizes the group’s actions can be unpopular with the broader public, who might resent traffic blockages or disapprove of splashed paint on famous paintings.

But Graham and Last Generation Canada believe change requires only 3.5 per cent of the population engaged in sustained civil resistance to produce a 55 per cent likelihood of positive change, citing the work of Harvard political scientist and professor Erica Chenoweth.

“It's not necessarily about getting the public on our side,” she said. “That's not really what our aim is… Our aim is to actually get things done.

“We also don't want to be doing this. It's not something that people do to have fun, right? It's something that we're trying to do to survive,” she added.

— With files from John Woodside

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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Civil disobedience and passive resistance is supposed to be the last stage in political protest. But these activists claim they have exhausted the Gandian option (which I doubt) and are going for publicity stunts instead.
So why, instead of targeting artistic works, aren't these folks splashing paint on oil company CEO's? Or on the lobbyists that work for them? Or the offices of Ministers and their advisers who actually have the power to pass preventive legislation? Is there not enough media coverage in directly attacking the power structure that enables climate change?

NO, there clearly isn't, and "media coverage" doesn't have the cachet it used to now that it's so splintered by social media, our true nemesis.
I see this as a generational difference in style over substance that arises from young people's unprecedented immersion in (and excessive identification with) the relatively new, mesmerizing virtual world at the expense of the old but only REAL world of politics and government, despite that also being the only place where that all-important "war footing" to fight climate change can actually START.
Or NOT, as will certainly be the case if conservatives win power, another all-important FACT that isn't even on the radar of young people; they're too busy filming themselves being bad-ass activists so they can "post it" on social media.
But to be fair, they aren't the only ones being slow-waltzed to our doom. There's also a pervasive, general societal perception that politics is just a tacky game beneath all our contempt really, sort of a popularity contest among used-car salesmen, or "Hollywood for ugly people." And because all of that "ends justifying the means in the REAL (there's that word again) market-based world" approach has always been more of the conservatives' traditional wheelhouse, they've been able to commandeer social media's exponential communications power like no other group. Proving Marshall McLuhan right again, that the medium IS the message.
So the CPC aren't having trouble recruiting younger people at all since Poilievre made himself "new" by beefing up, dressing kind of "Miami Vice" and going on you-tube to connect (albeit in a nasal drone) while simultaneously, viciously and relentlessly slagging our slightly more "effeminate" PM IN PERSON in that formerly boring old place, the House of Commons. Also televised AND ripe for capturing videos to put on social media. A twofer!
So instead of continuing to scatter our democratic force as we dance among the weeds to distract and entertain ourselves, ALL activism should be focused ALL the time on keeping the dangerous conservatives out of power.
But with the apparent epidemic of ADD and ADDHD out there (can't think how THAT happened), Tik-Tok MIGHT actually work to get the word out. After all, it's as simple as ABC.