Thousands of students walk out of class to demand action on climate change

Marianne Gilbert would have normally spent her Friday afternoon in class at McGill University. But when she heard on social media that her peers were organizing a dramatic walkout to demand action against climate change, she knew she had to take part.

"I feel like I had to be a part of it", she told CJAD 800 News.

Some of the best signs I’ve seen so far at the Climate Walkout (now making its way down to the Place des Festivals) #CJAD800

— Benson H. Cook (@bensonhcook) March 15, 2019

So Gilbert joined thousands of her peers from McGill, Concordia, UQAM and the Université de Montréal, as well as countless CEGEP and high schools, skipping class to show the government that protecting the environment is their top priority

Today's demonstration was one of many taking place around the globe, part of the "Fridays for Future" movement that began in the summer of 2018.

In the Montreal edition of the protest, students left their schools after 11:00, and by 1:00 had all converged at Mount Royal Park. There, they were joined by MPs and MNAs from several major parties, including Québec Solidaire, the provincial Green Party, the Bloc Québecois, and the federal New Democrats.

As the demonstration continues to Sainte-Catherine Street, the crowd has not thinned out at all #CJAD800

— Benson H. Cook (@bensonhcook) March 15, 2019

Deputy NDP leader Alexandre Boulerice said he was blown away by the turnout at the demonstration.

"Just wow", he remarked. "Young Quebecers and students are really aware of the urgency for the future of our planet, and it's a wakeup call for politicians like me, in all political parties."

But while the message was for all political parties, not all of them made an appearance: notably absent at the demonstration was anyone from either the federal Liberal Party or the CAQ.

"Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No," said Québec Solidaire's Vincent Marissal, when asked about the fact nobody from François Legault's cabinet was present for the demonstration.

The Rosemont MNA said the CAQ told him nobody from their party would attend two days ago, but that he thinks climate change shouldn't be a partisan issue. "We should all be here. Of course, I'm here as a Québec Solidaire MNA, and I'm walking with Manon [Massé] and Gabriel [Nadeau-Dubois], but it's so much bigger than us."

The passion, fervour and volume have not diminished in these protesters, even as they near the end of their march through downtown. #CJAD800

— Benson H. Cook (@bensonhcook) March 15, 2019

Despite the lofty rhetoric, Marianne Gilbert said she's unsure the protest will do much to change the minds of some politicians. "I think this manifestation is too passive. I think it's not controversial enough, I think it's not going to do anything. But at least we'll talk about it."

However, some students struck a more optimistic tone. High schooler Julienne Desmarchais said she and her friends decided to take part in the demonstration after being inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who started the Fridays for Future movement last year. On Thursday, Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

"If we're a lot of people, maybe we can get to another level, and maybe the people [in power] can see what's happening, and what we're talking about," Desmarchais said.