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Toronto marijuana demo turns nasty

By RITA TRICHUR

2004-08-22

TORONTO (CP) - A marijuana protest turned nasty Saturday when at least two people were detained during scuffles with city police on a park lawn near the provincial legislature.

The dustup started after police -accompanied by municipal bylaw officers and parks officials -shut down the Canabian Day festival, a pro-pot rally when Toronto organizers failed to produce the necessary permits and insurance. "The major issue is the fact that we couldn't get any insurance," said organizer Marko Ivancicevic.

"Basically, the last two years we've tried to get the (event) insurance but they keep denying us because it is a marijuana-based event."

Several hundred demonstrators were barred from accessing a rented stage and using any sound equipment, including microphones and speakers, pulling the plug on a scheduled concert by six pro-marijuana bands.

Tempers flared when a young male had his glasses smashed as he was restrained by officers after propping a protest sign reading, Legalize It and Weed My Lips, against a statue of King Edward.

"As far as I know, my friend was just standing there holding a sign, and then next thing I know, the cops are putting him in the back of a paddy wagon," said Dan Adams.

"He didn't do anything."

A second protester, also holding a placard, tripped over a skateboard as he was put into a nearby cruiser, prompting jeers from the crowd.

No names were released and it was not known if any charges were laid.

Another demonstrator, Dominic Cramer -who runs the non-profit Toronto Compassion Centre, which provides therapeutic marijuana to people who are sick -was warned by police that he too could face arrest after he got into a shouting match with officers.

"This is ridiculous," Cramer said.

"The cops for some reason decided to get violent and threatening kids that were just holding a sign ... He wasn't smoking up, he was just holding a sign."

Police spokesman Sgt. Joseph Gataveckas said he wasn't aware of any arrests Saturday.

"Like any protest, (officers are) there to keep the peace and to make sure that no one breaks the law," Gataveckas added.

Similar protests were also slated for Hamilton and Niagara Falls.

Statistics Canada reported last month that about three million Canadians, or 12.2 per cent, used cannabis at least once in the last year, with the highest rates of use among teens.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has promised to introduce legislation to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of the drug.

The Toronto arrests, however, only emboldened protesters who flagrantly lit joints and passed out "chronic candy."

Others -like Steven Bacon, a medical marijuana user -wore his Health Canada permit on is forehead as he clung to a live pot plant and addressed the crowd.

Bacon, who suffers from spinal cord and digestive problems, likened the Toronto arrests to the recent sentencing of another marijuana advocate in Saskatchewan.

Marc Emery, president of the B.C. Marijuana Party and founder of Cannabis Culture magazine, was sentenced Thursday to three months in jail after pleading guilty to passing a joint to a supporter last March.

"Marc is being made an example of by the justice system," Bacon told the crowd. "They've put him in jail for 90 days, for God's sakes."



Commentary

That was some extremely, deeply, disturbing shit yesterday. That red-headed, moustached prick-cop should be disciplined for turning a peaceful gathering into a near-riot and WHY? Because a nice 17-or-so-year-old kid broke a CITY BY-LAW by having a sign in a city park... (ooooh, he propped it up on the monument - what a dangerous criminal! )... And so they grab him and drag/carry him 30 feet and throw him on the ground and stomp the shit out of him, breaking his glasses etc. Real nice. That was completely sickening behaviour by a few hot-heads who are supposed to be there to 'serve and protect' US. It was nice to see hundreds of peaceful potheads chanting in unison calling for his release, and interesting to see the shame (and, strangely, the fear) on the faces of those cops that knew their buddy/superior had gone way too far.

Sad. And all this after the same damn cops had been apprised of the situation, after we had explained the insanely discriminatory catch-22 the organizers were put in : to hold a sign, etc., in the park you must have a permit, to get a permit you must have insurance, the insurance companies are able to openly discriminate against events like this one and refuse the insurance, and so the city has their excuse to pull the permit and then calls the cops to show up and bust some heads. Gee, that doesn't sound like a brutal violation of our rights, huh? So sad.

I think a visit to Toronto City Hall / Council Chambers is in order.



There sure was video of the detainment, lots of it. City and CTV got it as well as at least one of our people. We'll be getting our hands on at least one version very shortly and will copy, rip and share it.

We have lots of photographs of Mike's injuries (major scrapes and cuts on his chest and knees, and less severe ones on his shoulder and elbow), and great pictures of the detainment which are posted at www.treatingyourself.com's forum, and others to come.

Mike, who actually turned 19 the day before Canabian Day(and whose glasses actually weren't broken - i got that from one of the articles but found out that they were actually knocked off his face as Mike was pounded into the ground, and somebody hung onto them for him while the cops were pricks to people who were trying to find out what happened to them), seems to be a great (for lack of a better word) person for this to have happened to... UofT student, upstanding citizen, no record, supportive and angered family, the desire and ability to make the best of this injustice. We'll certainly keep close contact with him, he's also a real nice guy who wants to be (even) more involved.

And on the other hand, the treatment he suffered at the hands of those 'keepers of the peace' was so completely unreasonable. Another correction I might need to make to my account of the event is the by-law deal... the cop told us that it was a bylaw infraction (that it was because of a municipal code that we weren't allowed to have signs) and when I asked him where we could have the signs and if we could keep our signs up if we went over to the sidewalk/road and held them there, they seemed stumped. I can't find any such law anywhere in the Toronto Municipal Code or any of its amendments. Can anybody tell me if there is in fact a rule that prohibited our signs? Or was it all completely and totally unfounded harassment, discrimination and brutality?

Oh, and what about this... The cops kept saying that it was private property and the City, whose private property it is, could say what we can and cannot do there... but here's the definition of Public Property from the Toronto Municipal Code:

PUBLIC PROPERTY Property owned by or under the control of the City of Toronto or any of its agencies, boards or commissions, including public highways, and shall be deemed to include public utility poles, regardless of whether the poles are owned by or under the control of the City.

Here's a description of the ownership of the property in question (from the government of Ontario website):

"The Queen's Park site was once owned by King's College, forerunner of the University of Toronto. ... In 1854, King's College leased the land at Queen's Park to the City of Toronto with the understanding that part of the site would be reserved for the construction of a new parliament building. The lease was to last 999 years, but was replaced with a new arrangement in 1859 with the city paying $6,000 per year.

In the 1850s the college moved further west to its present site, and the original building was used for a few years as the University Hospital for the Insane. It was later abandoned and demolished when construction of the Queen's Park Legislative Building began in 1886. In the 1890s, the land around the building was transferred to the Province of Ontario, while the parkland north of Wellesley Street remained under the control of the City of Toronto."



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