IAN GILLESPIE, Free Press Columnist 2005-08-05 02:23:44
About 14 years ago, I was sitting in a London courtroom when a rather agitated Crown attorney asked Marc Emery if he'd ever urinated into a woman's mouth.
"As I recall, I haven't done it, no," said Emery.
I'll never forget that.
About two years ago, I was standing in front of London police headquarters when Emery fired up a gigantic joint -- or in his words, a "bomber."
"Marijuana does not impair!" he shouted to a crowd of pro-pot protesters. "Marijuana enhances!"
That was another, ah, special moment.
I'm sure, however, that many Londoners devoutly wish they'll never see or hear Emery's name again.
After all, this is a man who publicly admitted to enjoying pornography, compared public schools to concentration camps and once complained that Canadians are "basically cattle. You can push and prod them and they just take it."
He's insolent, self-righteous and, quite arguably, an egomaniac. He's a rabble-rousing, poop-disturbing motor-mouth who has now managed to incur the wrath of the powerful U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
And we need him. Let me explain.
That urination exchange occurred in 1991 when, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to overturn Canada's censorship regulations, Emery was arrested and charged with selling obscene material after he peddled about 40 copies of a rap recording -- As Nasty As They Wanna Be by the group 2 Live Crew -- at his Richmond Street bookstore. The tape featured sexually explicit lyrics that had been deemed obscene by the OPP's pornography/ hate literature, anti-rackets branch in Toronto.
Emery's point -- and it's a legitimate one -- was that it should be the community, and not the police, that decides what we can and cannot read, see and hear.
He also argued that the 2 Live Crew tape was nothing more than a comic metaphor for the black artists' experiences.
At that point, Crown attorney John Hanbidge asked Emery if he agreed that a lyric that described urinating into a woman's mouth was funny. Emery said the lyrics were "play acting" and he found them sexually stimulating.
At which point, Hanbidge posed the pee-pee query.
During that trial, I found myself agreeing with Emery's big-picture points about the dangers of censorship. But I was deeply distressed by what I felt was the hateful and downright execrable nature of the rap recording.
Why, I wondered, are we spending so much time and money to debate such garbage?
Emery and his supporters, of course, will argue that if the state is allowed to pursue and persecute 2 Live Crew, then ostensibly normal people (and I say ostensibly) like you and me will be next.
It's the old slippery-slope argument. But I don't totally buy it.
On the other hand, I can't help admiring Emery's single-minded pursuit of individual rights and his overwhelming abhorrence of government intervention.
During his years in London (he left in 1992), Emery co-founded the Freedom Party of Ontario, spearheaded a campaign to block London from hosting the Pan-Am Games, challenged a local no-smoking bylaw by encouraging patrons to smoke in his bookstore, voluntarily picked up garbage during a civic worker strike and once paid a person dressed as Santa Claus to feed coins into expired and nearly expired parking meters as a protest against local towing and ticketing practices.
In some ways, Emery was ahead of his times. In 1988, he was jailed for three days for doing business on a Sunday. Today, Sunday shopping is an accepted part of the status quo.
And in many ways, Emery's crusade to legalize marijuana reflects Canada's generally benign view of cannabis. According to Statistics Canada, 4.5 million Canadians (or about 14 per cent of the population) used marijuana in 2004. And the Senate recently released a report calling for legalization of marijuana.
This time, though, Emery may have gone too far. Although Canadian law enforcement has looked the other way while he sold marijuana seeds over the Internet, the American government has decided to stomp him out.
That battle will be decided in the courts. But I think this country needs a few more people like Emery -- people who prod, push and stretch our limits.
Because if we didn't have people willing to take us too far, we'd never get anywhere at all.-------------------------------
This is a classic Emery story. I love Marc. He is one of the greatest humans in all of history regardless of whether you agree with his politics or not. He is fearless, principled and unbreakable and I am more proud today to be his protege than ever before.