Emery's Battle 'David and Goliath'
Friday, August 5, 2005
Emery faces biggest battle
London Free Press
When Marc Emery first stood eye to eye with America's anti-drug crusade, he didn't blink before walking outside, claiming victory and lighting up a joint.
It was on that wintery Vancouver day in 2002 that Emery -- the London-bred business prodigy, who became Canada's Prince of Pot -- first tangled with U.S. drug officials, attending a $500-a-table Vancouver speaking engagement for John Walters, the czar of Washington's drug war.
Having identified himself as the publisher of Cannabis Culture, according to the magazine's website, Emery forced Walters to turn red and back away. Along with two pals, he heckled Walters's speech with shouts of "liar," defying local police, politicians and secret service agents.
"We weren't rude, we were assertive," recalls David Malmo-Levine, who sat with Emery that day. "That was a fair, momentary interjection."
After poking authority in the eye, Emery walked out and lit up his support for the marijuana cause that's brought him notoriety since he first got behind it here in London.
That's Marc Emery, who this newspaper once dubbed "the love-him-or-hate-him entrepreneur /politician/ debater/libertarian."
But he hadn't seen the last of the U.S. anti-drug bosses -- far from it.
Last Friday, his Vancouver business -- which has shipped millions of dollars in marijuana seeds into the U.S. -- was raided by RCMP officers on behalf of America's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
It's illegal to sell marijuana seeds in America, but not in Canada.
After decades of raising hell and staring down authority, the highest-profile protester to ever come out of London is now battling his biggest, baddest opponent. He's been in jail before, but Emery, who remained behind bars yesterday, has never seen a fight like this.
Could this be Marc Emery's last stand?
Even his tough-talking backers and long-time supporters, who point to this as a breach of Canadian sovereignty, offer a gulp of fear at the very real possibility of a trial on American drug charges.
"I do see this as the one fight he can't win," says London historian Chris Doty, a longtime friend working on a play about Emery's life.
"This is David and Goliath."
* * * *
One of four children born to Alfred and Eileen Emery, Marc Emery grew up on Parliament Crescent and quickly developed his remarkable money-making savvy.
An anecdote his mother once told proves that: A box of valuable scrap metal sat untouched in their home's basement until one day it all disappeared and young Emery -- not quite in his teens -- had bankrolled his first business, selling comic books.
Later Emery dropped out of high school and bought City Lights bookstore, a Richmond Street success story that still stands today, 30 years later.
It was a success that afforded Emery the chance to fight for what he then called "unrestricted individual freedom." His first fight, Doty says, showed the spirit Emery still throws into everything.
Unhappy with a city levy foisted upon his book store, Emery launched a three-year fight to get rid of the Downtown Business Improvement tax. He failed, but the experience only whetted his appetite for conflict.
He worked to derail London's taxpayer-sponsored Pan-American Games bid. He spent three days in jail after defying provincial Sunday shopping laws.
In 1990, he held his first pro-pot rally, renting out the Museum London lecture hall and inviting marijuana activists.
His pot crusade in British Columbia made it to the pages of Rolling Stone in 1998.
More recently, he returned to London in 2003 to smoke a marijuana joint on the steps of London police headquarters.
Some Londoners have come to love Emery. Others positively loathe him.
But to his brother, who still lives here, he deserves respect.
"I think he's a man who stands up for what he believes in -- exactly the kind of brother I'd like to have," Matthew Emery said this week. "I admire him. That's all I care about."
Their father, Alfred, died on June 6. It was his influence, Matthew Emery says, that moulded Marc's fighting spirit. In an obituary he wrote, Marc Emery referred to himself as "the proud son of the greatest father ever."
Despite the threat posed by the DEA, Matthew Emery dismissed any notion that his brother should be nervous.
"We'll go out and get knocked down and get back up again," he said.
* * * *
The U.S. government's request to extradite Emery from British Columbia -- where he has lived since 1992 -- will go unchallenged by our federal justice department, a spokesperson has said, noting the move is well within America's rights.
In Washington yesterday, one DEA official scoffed at the suggestion the arrest threatens Canada's sovereignty.
"The nationality is irrelevant to us," Garrison Courtney said. "If there's somebody moving coke into Canada from the United States . . . we investigate that individual and extradite them into Canada.
Though some are loathe to think it, Londoners should take credit for making Emery the activist he is today, Doty said.
Having fought against the city's conservative attitudes time and again while running City Lights, the young activist was only strengthened by those opponents.
Either way the extradition fight goes, it will serve to only make the London native more famous. It's his toughest fight, but could also be his biggest victory.
"If he wins, he wins; and if he loses, he wins because he becomes a martyr for the cause," Doty said.
"It took the power of the U.S. government to (slow) him down. That says a lot about Marc Emery and a lot less, I think, about Canada."