Thursday, March 11, 2004


The wind is whipping dark clouds across the sky, grainy beams of sunlight stab through like searchlights.

It's unseasonably warm for March 5, 18 degrees in these global warming times.

A full moon ascends to dominate the troubled night sky.

And the news comes to me, Tooker is dead.

I knew Tooker, as anyone active in environmental issues in Canada might.

He was a dynamo, creative, funny, daring, inspirational.

He also suffered from depression.

Hard to believe for those who knew Tooker through his public actions.

He was a powerful force for good, for the planet, and god knows we need more like him.

But Tooker was one of a kind.

When local activists invited Tooker to speak at a sustainable transportation series at the public library, he wanted to come to town early to take part in a protest event. He wasn't one to merely talk, action was integral to his being.

A few of us quickly scrambled to pull together an event to commemorate victims of car culture in the city.

On the day (three years ago this month) we held a memorial march from Wellington and King streets to City Hall. Tooker walked down the left-hand lane of King Street with about 40 of us; at City Hall plaza he made a speech.

We presented a list of cyclist and pedestrian "demands" to a city councillor, then staged a mock die-in.

Tooker had brought his ever-present bicycle with him on the GO bus from Toronto, having to argue his way past newly enforced regulations outlawing bikes from being carried in the storage compartment of the bus.

He brought a banner, blood red with bold white lettering: "Stop the Carnage"- he brought his own bull-horn. He could almost be a one man revolution.

That night at the library he gave an entertaining, passionate, inspiring talk.

Next time I saw him, he and his partner Angela were helping with a demonstration in Toronto against Ontario Power Generation (OPG), one of Canada's worst polluters - Tooker had his video camera with him at the meeting, helping to record the little actions that make a difference, the actions that don't always make it to the dailies or the network.

I knew he suffered from depression, had seen from a distance the terrible toll it took on him, sapping energy from his body, numbing his enormous vitality.

I'll remember him at his best. His public life was lived like a hammer crashing on an anvil, when Tooker got involved sparks would fly.

The sparks of his life have kindled smaller fires in the hearts of many others in places where he worked to save and protect our sick planet, to creatively confront power where it had gone unchallenged.

Whether it was the day he got arrested in Montreal for sitting on an abandoned couch which he dragged into a parking space at the side of the road, or his spirited run for the Mayor's chair in Toronto (he came second to Mel Lastman), his term in office as an Edmonton, Alberta councillor, the time he burned his passport in protest of Canada's shameful role in the UN Climate Change Conference in Den Haag, the Netherlands (then got himself arrested for trespassing at a nuclear weapons base and deported back to Canada), or delivering table scraps to Mayor Lastman's office after the cancellation of a city composting program, Tooker was an inspiration, always pointing the way to a more liveable future.

In an article he wrote about activism, Tooker found inspiration in Henry David Thoreau's timeless essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience."

Thoreau wrote "Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine."

Tooker answered "I take this as a license - indeed a duty - to push harder. To take chances. To be bold. To cross the line."

He certainly, without fail, gave it his all.

The last communication I saw from Tooker was a comment he posted to Hamilton Indymedia, October 30, 2003. I had just reported on arrests occurring in Red Hill Valley.

Tooker wrote:"Just want folks to know that there are people all over the place that are with you in spirit. Keep at it. Don't give up. The last thing this world needs is another expressway. In Halifax I'm with ya, -Tooker." Tooker's death is of course a tragic loss for those who knew and loved him.

But patient, abused Mother Earth has lost herself a dedicated son, and for that we should all mourn.

May his spirit live on.

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