Judge delays ruling again in Compassion Club pot case
Cites 'very delicate' technical evidence. Defendants, who supply cannabis to the ill, say they are encouraged by latest wait
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
Their drug-trafficking trial ended 19 months ago, but a pair of Club Compassion de Montreal activists will have to wait at least two more weeks to know their fate after a Quebec Court judge postponed judgment in the case for a 10th time.
The last few months have been "a little nerve-wracking," said pot activist Marc-Boris St. Maurice, 32, who was charged along with Alexandre Neron, 22, after police busted the Plateau Mont Royal club in the fall of 2000, seizing 66 grams of marijuana.
"It's not as bad for me as it is for the people who are sick. ... I'm a patient man. It's worth waiting a while for a favourable judgment," said St. Maurice, the founder of the provincial Bloc Pot.
"I think if (the judge) was planning to disqualify our arguments on the legitimacy of medicinal marijuana, it would have happened a long time ago."
The duo's trial ended in May of 2001, but Judge Gilles Cadieux postponed his ruling five times before the case was reopened this past spring.
He was first supposed to rule in August, then September, and, finally, in October.
Yesterday, Cadieux set Dec. 19 as the final date in a case that is being watched closely by pro-cannabis and law-enforcement groups across Canada because of its likely impact.
Courts routinely accord postponements before and during proceedings, but one legal scholar said it is unusual for a judge to deliberate for such a long time in a criminal case.
"It's not typical, certainly. But I hesitate to say that this is unheard of - we do see these types of situations once in a blue moon," said Anne-Marie Boisvert, a criminal law expert at the Universit? de Montreal.
"It's not like it's a complex fraud with thousands of pages of evidence ... but this is a complicated trial with wide implications," she said. "I'm not surprised the judge wants to take his time."
Cadieux, who is reputed in legal circles to be exceedingly thorough, agreed to reopen the case in May to hear new evidence based on changes in the government policy concerning medical marijuana.
At that point, he made an interim finding that Canadian laws banning the sale of marijuana to medicinal users were unconstitutional - a finding that has led to much optimism in the defence camp.
"The evidence is voluminous and very technical," Cadieux explained in court yesterday.
"There is one section left which is very delicate that I have yet to completely consider, but I should be done within the next week or so."
Defence lawyer Pierre Leger said it's encouraging that Cadieux is giving every consideration to the defence's argument that current drug laws are unconstitutional
"We've been working on this long enough, we're happy to wait another couple of weeks," he said. "This is an unprecedented case that will have an impact across Canada, so it's important that the work be done well."
Leger said the court will likely do one of three things: issue a stay of proceedings, grant a legal exemption for Compassion Club volunteers, or invalidate Canada's drug legislation.
St. Maurice did chalk up what he termed a small victory yesterday after Cadieux amended his bail conditions to allow the former punk-rock musician to enter the Club Compassion premises at 950 Rachel St. E.
The club closed for several weeks this fall because of a shortage of volunteers willing to help patients.
It has since reopened, and organizers are in the midst of updating files on their patients: those with doctors' prescriptions and the handful of Montrealers who hold federal-government exemptions to smoke marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done at the club, and now I'll be able to go help out," St. Maurice said.
"It's a big relief and I'm grateful."
Wheels of Justice
- 23 procedural delays and postponements since November 2000.
- 10 postponements of the judgment.
- 9 rescheduled hearing dates.
- 4 delays due to requests from lawyers or the court.
© Copyright 2002 Montreal Gazette