Thinking about getting busted? It sounds as thought there are lots worse places to do it in than friendly B.C. The Clayoquot controversy recently caught my interest. It made me think about getting involved with something basically unrelated to advocating on behalf of the disability community (well, maybe not completely unrelated, since people with disabilities also need a clean Earth to live on).
It was because of my disability that I thought I could make the public look even more closely at the environment issues involved in the clear-cutting of what little virgin forest remains in B.C. The fact that I have a disability did not change when I started to plan a journey to Clayoquot with getting arrested in mind.
We arrived at the peace camp shortly after 5:00 am. I had to use the washroom AGAIN. The toilet consisted of a wooden box with a hole in it. Oh, what a pain – this could only be for a cause!
After a briefing by the Friends of Clayoquot, a crowd of us took our positions in front of the Kennedy River Bridge. When the RCMP’s floodlights came on, I ordered my friend to “get out of here, NOW,” and my attendant to “back up and away for now.” My friend retreated to the sidelines, and my attendant backed off enough to see me but stay out of the line of fire.
MacMillan Bloedel personnel reps read the original court injunction order and gave the appropriate warnings. After many dropped out of the blockade, there were six of us left – five standing and one sitting. The police officers approached each of us to make sure we understood our actions and the consequences thereof. I watched the three people in front of me surrender to arrest. Then the police officer put his hand on me and said, “Wait here, I’ll be with you in a minute.” (Guess he had to think about me!) He arrested the two people behind me, then returned to me and knelt down at my side. He asked me, “Are you aware of what you are doing here? I responded, “Yes, sir.” He asked, “Do you know that if you do not move aside I will have to arrest you?” “Yes, I understand,” I said. The officer replied, “You’re under arrest; please come this way.”
I drove my 400-pound wheelchair to the rickety old school bus. One officer asked me, “Do you want your attendant to put you on the bus, or do you want us to? I answered emphatically, “I want YOU to do it!” So two officers took me from either side, carried me up the stairs and gently put me in the front seat. My attendant joined me thereafter.
One officer was heard to say to another, pointing at my wheelchair, “Do you know how to drive this thing? The other said, “No, just pick it up.” So the two officers carefully put my wheelchair into one of their 4x4s. When we got to the Ucleulet RCMP station, there was my wheelchair, waiting outside for me.
Processing us at the station took an unusually long time because the power was out. Only a few emergency lights dimly lit the small station. This added to the dreamlike, surrealistic experience of being half asleep at 5:00 am. in the middle of a black forest with the fog beginning to rise, surrounded by a bunch of hippie-like strangers singing and beating tambourines, all suddenly broken up by RCMP floodlights and a booming megaphone. I was glad to see finally the light of day and my friend and chauffeur leaning patiently against his ‘77 Torino station wagon, arms folded and ankles crossed, waiting to bring us home.
My trial date was set for February 7. I could picture myself being sentenced to 20-some-odd days in prison. I could also picture the judge letting me off because I have a disability. I would respectably tell the judge that I have every right to be sentenced equally as everyone before me. I would, however, point out that in order to keep me in jail, the Attorney General would have to provide monies to renovate my cell and pay for 24-hour attendant care.
The cost to government of civil, peaceful disobedience in the Clayoquot Sound rises with each court case. It makes no sense! Nevertheless, I had my court date on February 7 of this year. I had to go to Victoria (that was quite a trip, full of very close scrapes). I had my day (half-day?) in court. When it came my turn to sit before the judge, next to my lawyer, I was sweating bullets. I don’t know how much of that sweat was caused by fear or by my spasticity!
I got one year’s suspended sentence plus a $150 fine. Not bad, eh? Considering I could have been given the three-week electronic monitoring and all that that involves.
The prosecution gave the game away by conceding that incarceration or electronic monitoring would be impractical. However, the prosecution did cite cases in which people with disabilities had been arrested and received fines.
I felt a trifle guilty as I left the courthouse, but my cheering section assured me that my lawyer was doing his job, and indeed he did it well. He used my disability a trifle more than I had wanted him to, and he apologized to the court on my behalf (which I had told him not to do). But hey, he got me off. I can’t get into trouble with the law for one year – not that I had planned to.
We were finished by 11:00 a.m. that day. I took my friends out for a celebratory lunch. First thing we did on the way to lunch after leaving the courthouse was jaywalk!