Canadians are peaceful people — until they are pushed to the limit.
Wiebo Ludwig was a reluctant crusader against pollution from the oil and gas industry. All he wanted to do was live peacefully on his commune in northern Alberta. But when he saw his family’s health threatened by pollution, he fought back.
Everything was peaceful on the commune for the first six years. “And then in the last few years, particularly the last four, we have had nine wells put in here, right around our place. And all of the symptoms showed and then the miscarriages came”, said Ludwig. The miscarriages affected livestock and family alike. Ludwig saw a connection between the oil and gas wells and the health problems.
It wasn’t an irrational connection. An Alberta rancher had won damages against Mobil Corporation after his prize cattle died from exposure to toxic chemicals from oil and gas drilling, but it took nine years. Ludwig didn’t have time to wait for the courts to resolve the assault to his family. He vandalized equipment in an attempt to drive his tormentors away.
“I think it’s an illusion to think that, as a Christian, when somebody breaks into your house, wants to do violence, that you bend down and pray to God. I think that’s a Christian misconception”, Ludwig said.
Ludwig was sentenced to 28 months for his role in bombing oilwells in northern Alberta. Unfortunately, the role that pollution had on the ill health of his family remains unresolved.
Jaunitia McKenzie immediately knew something was wrong when the men in full environmental hazard suits started working near her house in Sydney, Nova Scotia. They were digging up coal in the area near an old coke oven site. Until then, the soil that containing toxic sludge had been buried and undisturbed.
Don’t worry, Juanita had been told earlier when she and her husband had bought their house. After all, the coke ovens had been shut down years ago and the plan was to cover the area with sod and make a park. Hadn’t three levels of government approved the digging? She and her husband trusted that they were safe and began renovating their new home.
Then the problems began. Juanita found a bright yellowy-orange ooze coming out of the ground behind her house. She and her neighbours started to have migraine headaches. There was the smell of Benzene in the air. Many of the dogs in the neighbourhood died.
When she made a color-coded map of her neighbourhood showing locations of cancer, birth defects and respiratory problems. Juanita found that no household was unaffected. When their blood, hair, and urine samples were tested, hospital staff were afraid to touch them. They handled them as if they were toxic waste.
Juanita did not start out as an activist, but at a public meeting was held to hear the communities concerns, she had enough. Juanita stood up and told Premier MacLellan, ” My name is Juanita McKenzie and you’re going to hear a lot more from me, sir!” And he did.
As a result of her activism, testing was done on soil and on the orange ooze in her back yard. All showed unacceptably high levels of arsenic and heavy metals. The bricks that Juanita had salvaged from the coke ovens for her patio contained dioxin. The air was heavy with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
But the matter is still unresolved. Juanita’s neighbours are still sick and dying. They can’t sell their homes — who would buy them? Governments and industry won’t accept responsibility for the cost of relocation.
Jauntia and Ludwig fought in the only way that they knew how. They are on the vanguard of Canadians who have been pushed to the limit.
When governments ignore Canadian’s concerns of the environment and the homeless, they invite an escalation in confrontation. The assault on our health and environment must be responded to in kind. If governments will not listen, Canadians will turn up the volume, as they did in the recent violent confrontations between demonstrators and police in front of the Ontario legislative buildings.
The meek will only inherit a polluted planet dominated by corporate interests. Action is the only way to get the attention of governments who have lost touch with the people. Civil disobedience will increase to the point where politicians can not build barricades high enough to shut out the legitimate concerns of protestors.