Police raid pot shops across Ontario
Rachael D'Amore, CP24.com
Published Thursday, March 9, 2017 9:08AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 9, 2017 4:23PM EST
Cannabis Culture pot dispensaries across Ontario were raided by police Thursday morning in what a lawyer for Canada’s self-proclaimed ‘Prince of Pot’ is calling an “incredible waste of taxpayer dollars and police resources.”
The raids were part of an investigation dubbed ‘Project Gator’ on behalf of Toronto police in Hamilton, Vancouver and Toronto.
Police say that five search warrants were executed at Cannabis Culture dispensaries in Toronto and one each were executed in Vancouver and Hamilton. Search warrants were also executed at private residence in Toronto, Stoney Creek and Vancouver.
Five people have been arrested in connection with the investigation, including Marc Emery and his wife Jodie Emery. The Emerys – often referred to as the ‘Prince and Princess of Pot’ -- are marijuana activists and owners of the Cannabis Culture dispensary chain. They were taken into custody at the departure terminal at Pearson International Airport late Wednesday night.
“I would think most Canadian citizens are tired of this kind of war on the cannabis plant and cannabis consumers,” the couple’s lawyer Kirk Tousaw told reporters in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon. “Unfortunately some of us are still in the dark ages on this and continue to take this authoritarian position that simply because something is on the books as illegal that means we need to waste our time enforcing those laws.”
Tousaw said he spoke to his clients late Wednesday and found them to be in as “decent spirits” as you would expect for people who have been “locked in a cage” and had their “liberty restricted for no good reason.”
The couple appeared in court on Thursday but their bail hearing was pushed back until Friday.
Tousaw said that he has been instructed that the Crown will be seeking “substantial sureties” before agreeing to the release of his clients, including bail that would be set at the amount of about $200,000 each. Nonetheless, he said he expects to couple to “fight” the charges and eventually be vindicated.
“I am confident they will emerge from this as well as can be expected,” he said.
Police defend raids
The Cannabis Culture dispensaries that were raided in Toronto include locations on Church Street near Wellesley Street, Queen Street near Broadview Avenue, Queen Street near Bathurst Street, King Street near Spadina Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard near Kipling Avenue.
A newly-opened Cannabis Culture location in Ottawa was also raided, though that operation was not connected to Project Gator.
Speaking with CP24 earlier in the day, TPS Spokesperson Mark Pugash said that police will continue to enforce the law against storefront marijuana dispensaries until promised legislative changes are made to legalize the drug.
“The law is clear. Despite what the dispensary owners and advocates will try to tell you, that the law has a grey area – there is no grey area. It’s against the law,” he said. “People who are running these illegal businesses are making large amounts of money. The law says it’s illegal and we will continue to enforce the law.”
Emery's arrested at Pearson Airport
The Emerys appeared in court together on Thursday and were seen whispering to each other.
At one point, Jodie Emery flashed a peace sign to the people seated in the public gallery but was quickly warned by the court. She promptly apologized.
Several people who came to court to support the couple tried to approach them but were told to sit down by court officers.
One person was removed after he took a photo of the Justice of the Peace.
The couple's Toronto lawyer, Jack Lloyd, told reporters outside the courthouse that the Emery's weren't initially sure what they were being arrested for at Pearson. He also said he wasn’t sure if the arrest had since been explained to them "properly or not."
When asked whether he believed the cross-country raids coincided with the Emery’s arrest, he said that would be “a good assumption”
“They’re in good spirits, (but) obviously they’re in custody,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we can have a productive bail hearing tomorrow.”
Marc Emery posted on Facebook Wednesday night that he and Jodie were headed to Spannabis, a cannabis festival in Barcelona, Spain at the time of their arrest.
Marc Emery is charged with 15 offences, including five counts of possessions of the proceeds of crime and five counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking. Jodie Emery is charged with five offences, including two counts of possession of the proceeds of crime and one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Raids coordinated effort by Toronto police
A Facebook livestream by a man who identified himself as an employee of a Cannabis Culture location in Hamilton claims local officers confiscated all employees’ phones.
“They’re just taking everybody’s names and everybody’s phones and kicking us loose,” he said in the livestream. “It has to do with Toronto, they said.”
At one point, the man motions toward the store’s front door and says, “There are Toronto cops in there.”
Marc Emery was previously arrested at a Cannabis Culture location in Montreal back in December where he was charged with drug trafficking.
Last year, the provincial government announced it would pursue legalization in 2017. Despite this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed that the shops remain illegal while the process is underway.
Pugash said that he believes the public is becoming more aware of apparent “risks” associated with marijuana dispensaries and their products.
He cited a recent plea by Toronto police officers who asked marijuana dispensary owners and employees to report the growing number of robberies at the shops to authorities.
“Independent news outlets have analyzed product bought from dispensaries and found that it contains elements of insecticides, rat feces and mold. There is a considerable danger, nobody knows where it comes from,” he said.
“Nobody knows whether or not there’s been any quality control and so you really are taking chances and when you couple that with the recent spate of violent armed robberies we’ve seen at dispensaries, I think the picture most people have of lawless enterprises is absolutely a clear one.”