DEA pot raid: 'It's a war on Canadians, in Canada'
Doug Ward and Darah Hansen
Store manager Heidi Farnola thought it was a joke when a group of scruffy-looking men and women, some wearing T-shirts bearing a marijuana leaf, entered the B.C. Marijuana Party Bookstore Friday morning, shut the doors behind them and ordered everyone to freeze.
"This guy said, 'Nobody move, this is a DEA-Vancouver raid,' " Farnola said of the bust, which was conducted by plainclothes officers from the Vancouver police department, on behalf of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"I just looked at him and said, 'That's not . . . funny.' "
Turns out, few others think it's funny either. The raid on the BCMP Bookstore at 307 West Hastings -- and the subsequent criminal charges laid by U.S. authorities against B.C. pot activist Marc Emery, as well as Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek and Gregory Williams, on charges of distributing marijuana seeds south of the border via the Internet -- has many in Vancouver talking these days.
And the question on everyone's lips is: How can American authorities orchestrate an arrest of Canadians on their home turf, especially when Canadian law enforcement officials have tolerated Emery's marijuana seed business for years and declined to prosecute?
"A lot of people who don't even smoke pot think this is completely absurd," said Farnola of the feedback she's received over the weekend from customers at the marijuana paraphernalia store.
"This is a war on Canadians, in Canada. It's bad," she said.
Emery and Williams are scheduled to appear for a bail hearing in B.C. Supreme Court today.
Emery's lawyer, John Conroy, said the Crown is seeking to keep his client in detention and will be seeking $25,000 bail from Williams. Rainey-Fenkarek was released Friday on bail of $25,000.
According to Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd, it could take up to two years before the trio face extradition hearings on the charges.
In the meantime, Canadian criminal justice officials will have to answer an important question: Will they allow Emery and the others to face a much harsher U.S. criminal sentence than would be imposed under similar circumstances on this side of the border?
Assistant U.S. attorney Jeff Sullivan said Friday Emery is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Conroy said the question of extradition could hinge on whether Canada's courts consider it "unjust or oppressive" to send him to the U.S.
"We will argue that it is unjust if the offence is allowed to occur or is tolerated openly in Canada for a long period of time," Conroy said.
He noted that Emery's seed distribution business was part of the thriving "Vansterdam" scene of marijuana-related businesses in this city.
"Even the mayor said we should regulate and tax marijuana," Conroy said.
"So what's the problem? All of a sudden, after having done nothing, our officials are assisting the American government in their effort to give Emery life without parole."
The role of the DEA in Emery's arrest has sparked controversy. Many observers, including three city councillors who will likely compete to be Vancouver's next mayor, are concerned about the U.S.-directed raid.
"While there is a legitimate argument about the legalization of marijuana," said councillor Sam Sullivan, "I think bringing the American drug war issues into this debate in Canada isn't helpful."
Sullivan called Emery "a helpful part of a legitimate debate," adding that "throwing him in jail doesn't help us in our understanding of the issue further."
Fellow councillor Peter Ladner said Emery's arrest "sounded to me like an intrusion by American justice officials onto Canadian soil."
Ladner said he was alarmed to read that the assistant U.S. attorney justified Emery's arrest by saying that "there are more kids in treatment for addiction to marijuana than every other illegal drug combined."
"I find that statement extremely hard to believe," Ladner said.
Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Jim Green called the DEA instigation of the arrest "very troubling."
Green said the arrest goes against the increasingly liberal approach toward marijuana in Canada.
"It's a very definite intervention into what we are doing here," he said. "The mayor (Larry Campbell) has been strong in supporting legalization of marijuana. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is looking into it. I really don't understand it [the arrest]."
The raid on Emery's bookstore was requested by the U.S. government through the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, a federal law administered by the Department of Justice. A search warrant was authorized Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court, based on an affidavit provided by a Vancouver police officer.
U.S. authorities say the warrant was the result of an 18-month investigation of Emery's international seed-selling business.
"He's just got it in his blood to fight for things."