Return Fire

The Government of Canada's war on marijuana suffered a setback in a Halifax courtroom this week when enemy forces returned fire.

Marijuana Party leader and pot-legalization activist Michael Patriquen, facing two trials on cultivation and trafficking charges, brought his preliminary inquiry to a screeching halt yesterday by suing the Attorney General of Canada and the judge hearing the case for violating his constitutional rights.

Patriquen acted after the Supreme Court of Canada agreed in mid-March to hear three marijuana cases in which the constitutionality of pot laws has been called into question.

"Why should I have to go through a month of preliminaries that I can ill afford, two months of trial, just to ask for my constitutional day in court then," Patriquen said yesterday after provincial court Judge Patrick Curran ruled the first preliminary could not proceed until the lawsuit is resolved. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm guilty of nothing, and furthermore, this is affecting all Canadians, and as well as cleaning up my case, I'd like to do the same for a large body of Canadians at the same time."

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has not set a hearing date on the suit.

The criminal cases involve the seizure of several hundred immature marijuana plants and seedlings from hydroponic grow houses (neither of which belonged to Patriquen) in the East Hants communities of Noel and Centre Rawdon, and the seizure of three to four kilograms of home-grown marijuana in St. John's, Newfoundland. Although neither side will discuss the evidence, it appears Patriquen is accused of being the linchpin that connected the Nova Scotia growers with the Newfoundland sellers based on surveillance and wiretap evidence.

In recent months, police and prosecutors have subjected the Lower Sackville man to the war on marijuana's equivalent of carpet-bombing.

Although the cases are related, police laid two separate sets of charges, which means two preliminaries, two trials, and the possibility of two sentences that would not be concurrent.

In February 2000, Patriquen appeared before provincial court Judge Bill MacDonald, who ordered him held without bail at the urging of federal prosecutor James Martin. At a show-cause hearing three days later, Martin again opposed bail and MacDonald ordered him remanded until trial. It took a month for Patriquen to obtain a bail-review hearing before Supreme Court Justice Felix Cacchione, who released him on $50,000 bail.

What Patriquen didn't know was that MacDonald, a former deputy attorney general, had signed sealed warrants against Patriquen during the police investigation, a process that normally requires a judge to hear ex parte evidence from RCMP officers. That should have disqualified MacDonald from presiding over any aspect of the case, but neither he nor Martin informed the defence of the possible conflict.

In March, Patriquen filed a formal complaint against MacDonald with provincial court Chief Judge Jean-Louis Batiot. Batiot's office said yesterday the chief judge had ordered a transcript of the bail hearings, but had not yet reviewed the matter.

Last month, Patriquen sued Martin for violating both his constitutional rights and his right to make full answer and defence, resulting in his incarceration. Martin retained barristers' society president Craig Garson. Martin's statement of defence says MacDonald signed only four of forty-seven search warrants and wiretap authorizations in the case, a fact Martin says he was unaware of at the time of the bail hearings. It says Martin does not know what ex parte evidence, if any, MacDonald heard. He also claims immunity from prosecution.

Days after the suit was filed, Canada Customs and Revenue began a tax audit of Patriquen. Martin denies any role in that investigation. Says Patriquen, "I no longer believe in coincidences."

Last August, the RCMP initiated a crime investigation against Patriquen and his wife Melanie, who is not accused of any involvement in the marijuana operation. Corporal Allan Mann contacted the Ontario firm for whom Melanie had worked as Maritime sales rep for ten years. He asked for Melanie's expense records to establish the family's net worth in connection with "an offence contrary to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act."

Seven months later, Melanie, who won the firm's top sales award for 1999, was fired in what the company described as a cost-cutting move. Patriquen says his wife, the Marijuana Party candidate in the recent Halifax Fairview by-election, has since fallen into a "serious clinical depression."

In the course of pre-trial disclosure, Patriquen says the Crown turned over "thousands of pages" of wiretap transcripts that contained embarrassing personal information - "marriage-wrecking stuff ... none of which had any probative value and none of which has been entered into evidence."

With three possession convictions dating back to the 1970s, Patriquen is no stranger to marijuana prosecutions, although he has never been charged in connection with anything but cannabis products. In 1982, he was convicted of conspiracy to import hash oil from Jamaica and served twenty-eight months in prison and a halfway house. In 1992, he was charged with cultivation and possession for the purpose of trafficking while visiting a friend's marijuana plot in a Lunenburg County woodlot. After years of litigation that included an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, he was acquitted of possession for the purpose of trafficking, but convicted of cultivation.

Martin was the prosecutor in that case. In court yesterday, he laughed off suggestions of a Crown vendetta against Patriquen. I asked why the Crown was devoting so many resources to a case that involved only marijuana.

"The Crown enforces the Controlled Substances Act in relation to information charged by the RCMP, and in relation to those charges when they are laid, we prosecute in accordance with attorney general policy and the law."

"Any other loaded ones, Parker?" Martin asked. "Is that the best you can do? (How about) 'How many scumbag police officers were involved in this case?'"

It's certainly a comfort to see blind justice at work.

Originally published by The Daily News in Halifax. All rights reserved by the author. Parker Barss Donham can be contacted at pdonham@fox.nstn.ca.

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