Marc speaks about activism, extradition, and the road from London to Vancouver
It is unusual in this era of politics for members from opposing political parties to combine the efforts and agree that something is important. On Mon. Mar. 15, this is exactly what happened. It was a victory, of sorts, for Marc Emery, and the canna- bis movement in Canada. On that day, in the House of Commons, three MP’s from three different parties (Liberal, Conservative, and NDP) presented the House with over 12 000 petitions requesting the Justice Minister not sign the extradition order.
He is one of Canada’s most controversial citizens—there is no doubt. While most of us are aware of his current situation—awaiting to be extradited to the U.S. to serve five years in jail, for selling seeds to Americans through mail order— he also has a long and colourful history of challenging the system since he was in school.
“I was always a trouble-maker for the school[…]I knew they were indoctrinating people […]So I had this very active and cheeky dialogue with most of the teachers. But I never argued with my parents,” he remarks when I caught up with him during the Olympics.
Emery has just completed a marathon of bong hits, with visitors who have come to meet him, interview him, and of course, blaze. “They were lined up outside and down the street when I came in today,” he said as we set up to interview. I appreciate his graciousness to speak with me, when he is so obviously tired.
Emery opened his first business, when he was nine, called Stamp Treasure which sold stamps by mail. Later, when he was 11, he began to sell comics by mail order and called it Marc’s Comic Room. When Emery was 17, with two successful businesses under his belt, he purchased his first bookstore which he renamed City Lights. Emery recalls this period as a “magical” time in his life. He lived in the back of his store, and had everything a 17 year old could need. Shortly after opening his store, he began a three year, $20,000 challenge against the London Downtown Business Association over mandatory fees to core businesses for beautification and other programs.
During the garbage strike in London in 1976, Emery ran a garbage truck, picking up citizen’s garbage for free. This was a clever and controversial move that was appreciated by the civilians in London, who were being held hostage by the union and City’s disagreement. However, this action was not nearly as appreciated by London City Hall—which Emery made look bad with his actions (not to mention doing such a thing was illegal) —or the union, who felt Emery was showing a lack of support for their cause.
In 1984, along with The Freedom Party and the No Tax for Pan-Am Games Committee, founded in part by Emery, successfully campaigned against using tax-money to host the Pan-Am Games in London. They used simple grass roots methods like publishing their own paper, and delivering it throughout neighbourhoods in London, house by house, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
Emery also challenged the Sunday shopping law in London. He was charged eight times, and ended up spending three days in jail for “employing too many people on a Sunday.” He refused to pay the fine. It was eventually paid by the customers and staff of his bookstore. In the end, this challenge combined with others was successful as well, and Sunday closing laws became a thing of the past.
In 1991, Emery began challenging censorship laws; Starting with 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be, which had been deemed obscene and banned in Ontario. He was convicted of selling two copies of the album, and was sentenced to a year of probation. Right after sentencing, Emery began to sell marijuana related literature, including High Times Magazine— which at this time was still illegal in Canada. Try as he might, even selling banned books about marijuana on the front steps of the police station. He would not be arrested again, in Ontario.
Along the way, Emery discovered that one of the keys to fighting unjust laws was to break them. The general population would see just how unfair these laws were when put into practice. It seems quite unreasonable that a man would spend time in jail for employing too many people on a Sunday, and the general population does tend to notice when someone is going to jail for something so outrageous.
This wisdom, from his early activist/political career is evident in Emery’s work since arriving in Vancouver, in 1994. Within four months of arriving, he opened Hemp BC. By the end of that year, Emery had begun selling marijuana seeds, and sponsored a court challenge that success- fully overturned the prohibition of marijuana and drug related literature, making High Times a legal magazine in Canada. This neatly paved the way for the launch of Cannabis Canada magazine, in 1995—renamed Cannabis Culture, in 1998.
A series of police raids were carried out on Hemp BC. Each raid seemed to come after Emery was featured in Ameri- can media. Hemp BC was sold to the manager in Dec. of 1997, after the last raid emptied the store. Emery was also charged for “assaulting a police officer” after he spat on an officer that Emery says was “harming my employees.” He did spend some time in jail after this raid, and was banned from returning to the 300 block of West Hastings, where his business was located.
The office location was raided at least two more times after this. In Nov. of 2002, John Walters, then the U.S. Drug Czar, came to Vancouver to deliver a speech on how Canada needed to “embrace” the drug war. Emery purchased a table at the event and, along with other activists, attended and heckled Walters calling out, “Lies! Lies!” when Walters tried to regurgitate old propaganda in his speech.
On July 29, 2005, the RCMP— at the direction of the DEA—raided the Cannabis Culture Headquarters. And the biggest battle Emery has ever waged began.
Now five years later, he has agreed to a five year term in U.S. jail. Although the original terms of the agreement would have allowed for Emery to serve his time in Canadian jail, the Canadian Conservative government would not approve the plea arrangement. They were clear that they were not going to do Marc Emery any favours.
“It’s worth noting that these activities were approved by Health Canada’s referral of medical marijuana patients to his seed bank,” stated Scott Reid, a Conservative MP in Ontario, in the House of Commons when presenting his stack of four thousand petitions.
“It is also worth noting that Canadian courts have ruled that a $200 fine is appropriate punishment for this kind of activity, as opposed to extradition to a country where he can potentially face life imprisonment[…] Under the extradition act[…] the Canadian minister of justice shall refuse to surrender a person when that surrender may involve unjust or undue oppressive actions by the country to which he is being extradited” Reid commented in closing.
Libby Davis, NDP MP (Vancouver East B.C.) said the petitions represented a “strong belief that Marc Emery or any Canadian should not face harsh punishment in the U.S. for selling cannabis seeds on the internet when it is not worthy of prosecution in Canada,” when she presented her stack of four thousand or so petitions.
“There is a certain degree of unfairness that is inherent in the process that has been used to deal with him.” said Ujjal Dosanjh, Liberal MP (Vancouver South) and former Attorney General and Premier of B.C., when he presented his stack of pe- titions. “I have certain sympathies with Mr. Emery, not because of what he did […] but because I believe the process that was used to arrest him and punish him wouldn’t have been done in the case of Canadian authorities wanting to arrest him and punish him. And I believe that because of that unfairness, that the Minister of Justice is urged by the petitioners to take another look at it.”
It is impressive that there be such bipartisan support, and it is worth commending each of these MPs for presenting the petitions and speaking so well on Emery’s behalf.
While his future remains uncertain, Emery declares himself a sentimental person who is unable to remember the bad things in his life—only the good and won- derful. “I regard myself as having a great life. I had a great childhood, great relation- ships,” he says. His secret? “Adapt what you love with a philosophical passion, and then you will produce some really unique and wonderful results.”
To help Marc Emery fight his extradition, you are asked to contact the Justice Minister of Canada, Rob Nicholson, to tell him that you are a voter and you want him to refuse the extradition order for Marc Emery. You must insist the message be delivered directly to the Justice Minister, and ask for a response too! Remember to be polite and courteous.
Honourable Robert Nicholson
House of Commons
Telephone: (613) 995-1547
Fax: (613) 992-7910