Not an outlaw in Canada
Date: Friday, September 02 2005
Commentary: Not an outlaw in Canada
By Matt Mernagh
U.S. tanks didn't need to roll into Vansterdam to snatch our beloved Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, on Friday, July 29.
All the Yanks had to do was whisper to the B.C. Supreme Court, and the RCMP, the Vancouver Police Department and Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler fell in line. Emery was detained in Halifax for extradition on U.S. charges of conspiracy to launder money and distribute marijuana seeds and marijuana.
At their press conference, Seattle DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) special agent Rod Benson gloated like he'd bagged himself a big Mafia don. But the crimes Emery is charged with have all been dealt with in Canadian courts. And he won: Canada tolerates seed peddling in yet another complex pot gray zone. Yet Benson said Emery showed "overwhelming arrogance and abuse of the rule of law." Now whose law would that be?
Jeff Sullivan, from the U.S. Attorney General's office in Seattle, boasts that "a substantial amount [of seeds] was going to commercial marijuana operations, and we think they'll be significantly affected once he's out of business." Now, this is really hilarious. Pot production is going to drop south of the border? Doesn't he know it's still business as usual for another 60 seed banks still operating in Canada?
But this is all terribly dangerous, says lawyer Alan Young, part of Emery's quickly assembled legal team, for many reasons, not least of which is the money-laundering charge.
"Every Tom, Dick and Harry in our movement has received his cash," states Young flatly about the potential money-flow chart. Emery has said he pays about $10,000 a month in taxes for his seed operations, bookstore, magazine Cannabis Culture and sales of paraphernalia (Revenue Canada accepts grass taxes willingly, doncha know), an indication of how much cash he's bestowing on the pot community.
"I took plenty of money from Marc," Young says about the benefactor who funded many legal pot challenges. "If this were the late '90s, I'd be f---ed [because of the number of cases Emery paid him for]. But using you and me [to concoct] a money-laundering scheme isn't a very good strategy. We don't make money like buildings or investments."
The whole community receives dividends from our partnership with Emery. Myself, I'm fretting like a fiend. If the DEA or U.S. Attorney's office issues a deck of Canadian narco terrorist cards, I'd like to be the ace of spades. Last November, Emery asked me to write for his magazine. The day before the raid, I signed and faxed a contract to pen a series of columns on marijuana activism on terms that would make any freelancer envious.
But the question is, does this whole thing stink so bad that non-toking public pressure on our justice minister will make it inconvenient to sign the extradition order?
According to Ed Morgan, a professor at the University of Toronto law school, there are certainly a lot of dicey issues here. "Emery was simply using the Internet for anybody who wanted to order from him,'' he says. "He wasn't conspiring to ship drugs to the U.S.; he was simply making them available over the Internet to anyone worldwide. For any country to seize jurisdiction over the Internet makes the whole world vulnerable to long-arm jurisdiction. That seems dangerous to notions of sovereignty."
Human rights lawyer Paul Copeland points to the stiffness of American penalties as opposed to those levied by Canadian courts - and wonders if that fact alone will doom the extradition attempt. "The Americans are talking 10 years to life [for pot crimes]," he says, "so it will be interesting to see if anyone is able to persuade the minister of justice that the available penalties in the U.S. basically constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and whether that would be sufficient to persuade the government that Emery shouldn't be sent to the United States.''
Guy Caron, a specialist on Canada-U.S. relations with the Council of Canadians, says it's the first time he's heard of a Canadian being arrested by Canadian law enforcement at the request of the U.S. for an infraction committed on Canadian soil. He poses an interesting mental exercise.
"Try to see what would happen if we were to turn the case around,'' he says. "Let's say the Canadian government wanted to extradite a U.S. citizen who is peddling hate-mongering documents in Canada through the Internet - white supremacy, anti-Semitism or anything else against Canadian hate laws. Do you think the U.S. would agree to extradition for this citizen to face charges in Canada? Of course not. I personally would be very shocked if the extradition goes the U.S. way.''
Despite several calls, the Canadian Department of Justice would not provide comment.
Meanwhile, according to John Conroy, Emery's lawyer, his client has been cleaned out financially by posting bail for himself ($50,000) and fellow arrestees Gregory Williams and Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek. "To keep our beloved Prince in Canada,'' Conroy says, "is going to take a massive financial effort.''
As a weird sidewinder, Conroy tells me he has letters from medical marijuana users saying Health Canada actually advised them to purchase their seeds from the Net. "We have one hand of the government telling people where to get seeds via the Internet and another arm allowing arrests," he says.
The marijuana grassroots is already in high gear. On July 29, some Vancouver supporters laid down in front of the police van confiscating seeds, potential client lists and other documents, and others did what they always do when something like this happens. Smoke weed, play hacky-sack. Also known as a pot rally. In Toronto, 30 dedicated souls blitzed the U.S. Consulate on Monday, Aug. 1, an action that resulted in one police apprehension: mine.
The extradition will involve a two-year fight. Given its gravity, opportunities to burn something other than green on University Avenue (in Toronto) will abound. A nationwide Sept. 10 rally is planned. Dragging me back to 52 Division in cuffs on swearing charges will be a more common sight than Old Glory going up in flames.
Editor's note: This piece ran in the Aug. 4-10 edition of NOW, an alternative newspaper in Toronto, Canada.