David Clow holds the pipe that is attached to his wheelchair that he is using to wheel the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline project. – Brent Braaten, photographer
A Toronto man is wheeling his way along the general route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project, and halted Prince George traffic as he did so.
David Clow, a C6 quadriplegic, deliberately held up the travelling lanes on Victoria Street, Tuesday morning. At each set of traffic lights he tarried long after the light turned green in order to stack up vehicles behind him by the time he had gone a few blocks through the downtown. It was an act of civil disobedience aimed at causing unexpected awareness about the message on the back of his wheelchair: opposition to the pipeline.
Imagine how inconvenienced you’d feel, he said, if the pipeline ever leaked, or worse.
“Northern Gateway is such a risk,” he said. “That risk is being put on the environment of this area, and the people of this area, and whatever jobs they’re talking about just doesn’t add up to accepting that risk.”
Within days of passing through previous towns in Alberta, existing pipelines did rupture, he said, sending him even more momentum to carry on his difficult journey.
He attended a Tar Sands Healing Walk in June in the Fort McMurray area and was embraced so movingly by the resident aboriginal people for wheeling those 14 kilometres that he was seized by the idea of the Enbridge route – a distance 10 times that distance. He is now approximately two-thirds of the way to Kitimat where the proposed pipeline would end.
“I’m not saying shut down all industry. I’m saying that industrial companies have to be stewards of the environment, and we have to make decisions about which companies do that kind of work based on that company’s track record. Why would we let this pipeline go ahead based on what this particular company has already done?”
It looks particularly suspect, he added, when that company’s aims are accommodated in advance by the federal government making regulatory changes in their favour. He said the federal Conservatives have done this, much to his lifelong Tory chagrin.
“I’m from Toronto and I used to be a staunch Conservative,” Clow said. “When the G20 Summit came to town [in 2010], that ended all that. I experienced that firsthand. I didn’t think much of it, until I saw peaceful protesters blowing bubbles and playing songs get stomped by police and forcing them to fight back, then the next day the newspapers out-and-out lied about what happened, the Harper government lied about what happened, and they keep lying about it. And when you see something that shakes you like that, you start to look into everything the government does with a new understanding.”
This self-described awakening sent him into all kinds of new personal directions, like the Gulf of Mexico to document the BP offshore oil catastrophe, and now to central B.C.
All along the way he is documenting environmental issues he feels are going under-scrutinized by the public. While in the Prince George area waiting for wheelchair repair parts to be done, he said, the Mount Polley tailings lake broke through its faulty walls. He and some local contacts went to the site with cameras rolling and came out with even more ammunition that government and industrial corporations are not acting on behalf of the downstream public.
“They [government] declared that drinking water safe, but that’s a total farce putting people at risk,” he said. “They didn’t take their samples at the appropriate places, and we saw the tailings still leaking into the watershed so how can you call it safe, now, when the danger is still coming downstream? The spill isn’t even complete and yet they are already saying the water is drinkable.”
Once his wheelchair was roadworthy again, he Clow was back on the road. He had never used traffic stoppages as a tactic before Prince George but said he will now make it a regular feature of his travels along the duration of Highway 16. He said the Prince George RCMP were respectful while insisting he move to the side of the road, and he did so once he felt his point had been made, and this would continue to be his methods as he halts traffic in subsequent towns, save one.
In Vancouver, where he will wheel his final miles on the Northern Gateway issue, he intends to block traffic and not get out of the way. “I will force them to arrest me,” he said.
He is asking for no money or other material support he said, funding this journey from his own disability pension.
“I use my disadvantage to advantage,” he said. “People see an obvious disability, but I’m showing that I have an ability – an ability of my character – to bring the most out of people or motivate people, out of my own love for people. I’m doing this so my sick mom will know she raised a good son. When you have an injury like this, you learn what real happiness is. You know it goes beyond immediate or bodily gratification.”