82-year-old activist charged in Site 41 protest

By Gail Swainson
Elmvale, Ontario (The Toronto Star) 8-6-09

Mohawk activist Danny Beaton (left)

An ailing 82-year-old retired farmer and his wife have become the unlikely public face of a nasty battle over a garbage dump that is pitting a ragtag bunch of rural protesters against Simcoe County , the OPP and the courts.     

Two weeks ago, a Barrie judge granted Simcoe County an injunction ordering dozens of protesters blocking the gates at Site 41 to di-sband to allow workers to prepare the site for its scheduled opening in the fall.

But the protesters stayed put and on August 5, a local OPP officer ordered two of them, Keith and Ina Wood, to turn themselves in to police on charges of mischief.

The couple appeared at the Midland OPP detachment Aug. 6.
“I was at home baking butter tarts for the church when the police called and told us to come to the station,” Ina Wood, 76, said as she sat on the porch of the couple's rural home.

“I was a little shocked, but I told them that by protesting, I was doing what had to be done as a responsible citizen.”

Her husband says he has been at the site most days, sitting on a lawn chair, soaking up the sun with his retired buddies, Ina at his side, knitting tiny caps for newborns in the local hospitals.

“I am not a rebellious fellow. I try to do things right,” said Keith, whose family has farmed in the area for six generations.

He said protesting is a simple matter of doing the right thing.

“I would rather march in the front lines than have my children or grandchildren die of poisoned water,” Wood said. “I owe it to them.”

On Aug. 5, police ordered at least three other picket line regulars to turn themselves in to authorities.

The arrests have sparked outrage in this tight-knit rural community.

Most of the protesters in Tiny Township, north of Barrie, have never had so much as a parking ticket, let alone engaged in civil disobedience.

Nevertheless, here they are – farmers, native women, seniors and local rural folk, all mad as hell – and have been, every day for five weeks, blockading entry to the facility.

The protesters want Simcoe County council to either place a one-year moratorium on developing the site – while it reconsiders a narrowly decided plan to ship garbage there – or scrap it outright.

Eleven protesters say they will stay put, risking arrest, including 78-year-old retired farmer Jack Dyer, who lives less than two kilometres away.

“We have to support the native people. If it wasn’t for them, none of this would have happened,” Dyer said recently about the nearby Beausoleil First Nations, who have led the on-site protest.

Just moments earlier, a Simcoe County sheriff had posted the injunction on the gate next to where he sat.

Dyer, who grew wheat, corn, soybeans and clover hay, agreed with a laugh that he is not your typical protester.

“But I think Walkerton has made us much more aware,” he said. “And, of course, it’s on prime farmland, but no one seems to care about that.”

Water tainted with E. coli killed seven people and sickened hundreds in Walkerton in 2000.

Critics say the waste facility, which sits on 20 hectares of farmland, hovers over a vast aquifer of pure water connecting a web of underground streams to the Oak Ridges Moraine, providing drinking water for farms and hundreds of thousands of people in an area from Georgian Bay almost to Lake Ontario.

County officials have complained that security costs and construction delays caused by the blockade are costing taxpayers $80,000 a week while the site sits empty.

The facility, which so far has cost $10 million, is scheduled to hold 1.6 million cubic metres of garbage from Tiny and Tay townships, Midland and Penetanguishene over its 40-to 50-year lifespan.

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