Renowned human rights activist and vocal oil sands critic Archbishop Desmond Tutu will make a rare international public appearance in Fort McMurray, Alta., to speak at a First Nations treaty rights conference.
The Nobel laureate, who was at the forefront of the battle against South African apartheid, will tour the oil sands by helicopter Friday and give the keynote speech at the As Long As The Rivers Flow conference on treaty rights in Fort McMurray on Saturday.
Archbishop Tutu's appearance will intensify the international scrutiny of production in the oil sands, Canada's fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. The 82-year-old South African archbishop has already stated his concern about climate change, and said he stands in solidarity with communities fighting proposed oil sands pipelines such as TransCanada's Corp.'s Keystone XL or Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway.
Writing in The Guardian last month, he said it is "appalling" the United States is debating the Keystone pipeline, which would transport "830,000 barrels of the world's dirtiest oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico." He said an apartheid-type protest against fossil fuel companies, that included boycotts, divestment and sanctions, could be used to reduce the industry's political clout.
"If the negative impacts of the pipeline would affect only Canada and the U.S., we could say good luck to them," Archbishop Tutu wrote. "But it will affect the whole world."
The weekend conference will be hosted by Toronto law firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the beneficiary of rocker Neil Young's Honour The Treaties tour earlier this year.
Athabasca Chipewyan spokeswoman Eriel Deranger said the conference will focus on "how do we harness the power of treaty rights to protect the environment, shape resource development and approach this promise of reconciliation that the Canadian government speaks of all the time.
"There's some assumption that this is an anti-oil sands conference," Ms. Deranger said. "It's not. We're looking at the fact there are some serious issues to be addressed in the region."
Other speakers include Olthuis Kleer Townshend partner and former Ontario premier Bob Rae, U.S. land mines activist Jody Williams and former Syncrude Canada president Jim Carter.
Archbishop Tutu was in Toronto for events earlier this week where he met with a delegation from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. According to a story in the Canadian Jewish News, B'nai Brith Canada said it would not meet with him, given his comments about the similarities between apartheid-era South Africa and Israel.