Several Greenpeace activists are in police custody after three of them rapelled off the Calgary Tower to hang a banner attacking the relationship between the oilsands industry and government.
The group was able to get outside the tower through a window on the observation deck of the tourist attraction on Tuesday morning, Calgary police said. Once outside, the activists chained the window shut behind them.
They then hung nearly 160 metres from the ground to unfurl the banner — which read "Separate Oil and State" — on the north side of the tower in the city's downtown, where many oil and gas companies are based.
Members of the group wearing hard hats also blocked the base of the tower by putting up construction tape at the entrance.
The environmental group criticized what it called a "cozy relationship" between the oilsands industry and the federal and Alberta governments.
"While oil may run your car, it shouldn't run your government," Greenpeace activist Melina Laboucan-Massimo said in a news release. "Canada is not a petro-state and Big Oil should not be calling the shots and governments should not be ignoring the environmental destruction of the toxic tarsands."
Because of safety concerns, police negotiated with the protesters — who had set up a complex rigging system — instead of trying to physically remove them. The banner was taken away after about 30 minutes.
Police also cordoned off the area around the tower for more than two hours, opening the street to traffic again just after noon MT.
"This is costing the taxpayers," said construction worker Terry Pillipow. "I understand that they have to make their point but I believe it could be done in another manner, where it should be done, in legislation and stuff like that with the politicians — not stopping people from working and … holding up traffic."
Mark Gray, who works at energy company Encana, was not impressed with the amount of publicity Greenpeace was getting.
"Why am I upset? Because these guys get away with their stunts and they're never called onto the carpet," he said.
Three people who rappelled down the tower, as well as three others who remained at the top to assist in the protest, were arrested. Two people on the ground, alleged to have been accessories to the incident, were also taken into custody.
Criminal charges are pending against the activists, who are from Alberta, B.C. and Europe.
In a statement, Greenpeace alleged there's a "cozy relationship that the oil industry enjoys and exploits through lax regulations that allow companies to self-monitor in the tarsands." The group pointed to industry executives who work, or used to work, in the Alberta government.
The group said it timed the protest to coincide with the eve of a premiers meeting in Winnipeg that begins Wednesday.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said Tuesday that he will use the meeting to reinforce the importance of the province's oilsands.
"The benefits of Alberta’s oilsands extend well beyond our provincial borders," Stelmach said in a news release. "I will ensure my colleagues across Canada understand that Alberta's oilsands contribute to Canada's [gross domestic product], create jobs in other provinces and provide a secure source of energy for North America."