The Toronto Star
NEWS, Saturday, October 16, 1999

Defenders of moraine take action
Group in 'protest training' to save Oak Ridges area

Kellie Hudson

Gloria Marsh isn't normally into civil disobedience.

But the 55-year-old Oak Ridges woman is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect her beloved moraine from bulldozers.

That's why she and about 15 other concerned local residents are taking a course in civil disobedience to better equip themselves in their battle against the development of the Oak Ridges Moraine.

At noon today, the group will meet for "protest training" in Oak Ridges, at the guardrail on the north side of Stouffville Road, between Leslie St. and Bayview Ave.

They'll learn how to climb trees, and how to properly use bicycle locks, handcuffs and lock boxes to immobilize big pieces of equipment.

They'll be taught when it's appropriate to simply picket or blockade a road. They'll also learn how to deal with police officers on the scene and, if arrested, how to negotiate through the legal system.

Their instructor is a pro at civil disobedience. Lea Ann Mallett, co-director of Earthroots, co-ordinated the 1996 forest blockades in Temagami, and has been teaching protest workshops since 1989.

This morning's two-hour lesson will be like all the others: free, hands-on and with lots of interaction, she said.

"It's a workshop that gives people the ins and outs of what it means to consider engaging in that type of protest," Mallett said. "We do take it quite seriously if people are risking arrest. They should understand how to deal with the police and what they are getting into."

Marsh can't believe she's contemplating civil disobedience. As co-chair of the Kettle Lakes Coalition, and a member of other environmental groups, the most she's ever done in the past is write letters and speak out at public meetings.

"I thought we would be diplomatic, and we could discuss and negotiate, but they are not listening," she said. "It's a shame we can't do it any other way. But I'm prepared to handcuff myself to a tree, or a piece of machinery. I would not be able to sleep well at night if I didn't give it my best shot."

Like many others, Marsh is worried about the future of the moraine, an environmentally sensitive system of Carolinian remnant forests, kettle lakes and underground aquifers.

Debate on the moraine, which stretches 160 kilometres from the Niagara Escarpment in the west to past Cobourg in the east, is heating up.

In Richmond Hill, the planning commissioner wants a crucial sector of the moraine declared open to urban development. In Uxbridge, a developer wants to put 2,500 houses on it.

And work on the Bayview Extension, a much-talked-about concept for the past decade, is moving forward.

Called "the rain barrel of southern Ontario," the Oak Ridges Moraine is a tall ridge of crushed rock, clay and sand that absorbs rain and snow like a giant sponge. It provides drinking water for towns such as Newmarket and Aurora and feeds the headwaters of major rivers, including the Don, the Humber, the Rouge.

"We are intrinsically connected to our environment and to nature," said Marsh, a landscape designer who has lived in Oak Ridges for the past 22 years. "We need to preserve this for our own health, not just the flora and fauna. It is so beneficial to us, our drinking water, our quality of life."

Last week, the Kettle Lakes Coalition joined other environmental groups to call on the province to spend $100 million to purchase the moraine and preserve it as parkland.

But nobody seems to be listening, Marsh said.