Hundreds ready for arrest on the 'Hill'

Protesters were already filing into Ottawa on Sunday for a showdown with the federal government over its support for the oilsands and a plan to build a giant pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

After the high-profile arrest of celebrities and about a thousand activists in Washington last month for their attempts to stop approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Greenpeace and other groups hope to gain similar notoriety in Canada with a civil disobedience protest on Parliament Hill on Monday morning.

"What we see ahead is a catastrophe, a catastrophe for our grandchildren and their grandchildren," said Rosemarie Whalley, a senior citizen who came from Montreal for a day of training before the protest.

"We can't just let this situation continue and let the environment be wrecked."

She joined about 150 others at a hall at the University of Ottawa for tips on how to handle confrontation with authorities. They hope Ottawa will also draw its share of celebrity attention, with stars such as Gordon Pinsent, musician David Bidini and indigenous celebrity Tantoo Cardinal expected to be on hand.

Already the plans for a sit-in have had a polarizing effect, with both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver making a point of defending the pipeline late last week, amidst a flurry of press releases and news conferences denouncing the pipeline project.

Harper told reporters in New York that U.S. approval of TransCanada Corp.'s pipeline was a "no-brainer" since the project would bring thousands and thousands of jobs, and also ensure the United States would have a secure source of oil.

And Oliver hammered a Toronto audience with fact after fact about the benefits of the oilsands, saying he needs to set the record straight on the pipeline.

"Criticism of the oilsands, and now the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, is a major concern for us, with implications for our energy industry, our economy and our energy security," he said.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says oilsands employment is expected to grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 positions by 2035, of which 126,000 will be outside Alberta.

But some of the unions representing oilsands workers complain that the XL pipeline creates far more jobs south of the border, instead of refining oil in Canada and keeping the jobs here.

And environmentalists argue that Canada should be shifting away from oilsands to create jobs in renewable energy instead. There's potential to create up to 250,000 jobs in that industry, Hudema said.

But the main argument against the Keystone XL pipeline is environmental. The pipeline would travel through six states, and also pass through the Ogallala Aquifer, a subterranean reservoir that provides water to Nebraska and seven other states.

Environmentalists, as well as First Nations who live in areas where the pipeline would travel, fear that spills would lead to irreversible damage.

Final approval from U.S. authorities is expected to be in place by the end of this year.

But since the pipeline is already approved in Canada, the Ottawa protest will focus more broadly on the need for the federal government to turn away from oilsands energy and invest instead in renewable energy, said Greenpeace organizer Mike Hudema.

The aim, he said, is "to get the government to turn away from the very devastating and very toxic tar sands industry, and to start addressing one of the greatest crises of our time, which is the climate crisis that is currently affecting and displacing millions of people around the world."

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