CN ON: In Contempt Of Court
Newshawk: CMAP ( http://www.mapinc.org/cmap )
Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jul 2003
Source: Eye Magazine (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 Eye Communications Ltd.
Author: Carl Warren
IN CONTEMPT OF COURT
The Law Is Only One Means To This Lawyer's Ends
When I first talk to Alan Young about his forthcoming book, he is sitting on a rickety old couch in the Annex, puffing on a joint, with his pal and former client Terri-Jean Bedford, better known as the Thornhill Dominatrix. The place is a madhouse. His mammoth-sized dog, Salem, is howling and whirling around in Cujo-like spasms.
Young is smoking furiously on a cigarette -- between pot puffs -- and brainstorming with Madame Dominatrix on how to drum up publicity for his book ( which he temporarily was calling The Handjob of Justice. )
"I know how I am going to get some press!" he says, giggling, his legs jittery with elation. "I'm going to get the City of Toronto charged for making money off of massage/blow jobs," referring to the fact that the city charges erotic massage parlours higher licensing fees than their therapeutic counterparts.
That was before the publisher that had bought his book, Stoddart, went out of business and he had to start the whole publishing process over again. When the smoke had cleared, Key Porter Books snapped up the book and will be publishing it this fall to what Young hopes will be something like the acclaim he's used to getting for his court appearances, media scrums and law classes.
Though he's become one of the country's highest profile lawyers, he's in no way an ordinary one.
In the beginning, law was the furthest thing from the mind of Alan Young the rabble-rousing Marxist teenager who grew up on the Bridle Path ( "I was your typical Communist kid who had a pool." ) In fact, he'd been studying playwriting with W.O. Mitchell at York when his parents urged him to apply to law school. He was cavorting in France that summer when his mom called to say he'd gotten in. One thing led to another, and he was a lawyer for 18 years. Young says he sacrificed his artistic dreams because he could take on the cases he really cared about. A job teaching law at York paid the bills.
Now Young is back where he left off. "I just need the book to come out to psychologically make the transition between lawyer and writer. You're only a writer when some goofball wants to put a cover on your book."
Over the course of his career, Young became a sort of counsel to the underground. At one time or another, he has gone to bat for medicinal pot smokers ( including AIDS patient Jim Wakeford in 1999, a case that led directly to the creation of the first medical marijuana in the country ), a journalist who was accused of watching the Bernardo tapes ( he dropped that one ), a record store owner who was charged with under the obscenity laws for selling a 2 Live Crew album ( he lost that one ) and Bedford, who ran "The Bondage Bungalow" ( strike three ). "I represent pleasure-seekers," says Young, who makes friends of many of his clients.
Young takes the Charter cases that few lawyers will touch -- most of them are losing cases. He uses circus-style tactics designed to gain public attention and support for a cause in court. He has been known, for instance, to call a fully armoured S/M bullwhip master to the stand. For this, Young has developed a reputation as a media whore. An editor at a major Canadian magazine once dismissed Young, saying, "The guy wakes up and looks for the camera."
Even so, Young has pursued many less glamorous cases. He has represented countless unknowns who drift in and out of the courts -- the mentally ill, prostitutes and junkies. Most of his work is on the house ( in all, he says he has given almost half a million dollars in pro bono counsel ).
He is most known for his weed work. It's also where he's had the most success. Young, who was recently named "Freedom Fighter of the Year" by High Times magazine, is the only lawyer in Canada to so publicly plug pot use. He helped set up the Toronto Compassion Centre in 1998, was called as a witness in its defense after the St. Clair and Bathurst organization. which distributed marijuana to about 1,200 seriously ill clients, was raided on Aug. 13 of last year, and he will probably be sparking up a celebratory reefer on July 10 -- which marks the second year in Canada without an enforceable pot law. Young is pretty much responsible for this newfound liberty. Over the years, he has filed a myriad motions on behalf of pot-smoking AIDS patients, marijuana magazine sellers, pot cultivators and hemp stores.
"Alan's efforts have made a significant contribution to the smoke 'em if you got 'em age we are living in," says Paul Burstein, director of the Criminal Law Intensive Program at Osgoode.
The thread that runs through all of his lurid and long cases is Young's interpretation of civil liberties and his belief that the law should focus on serious crimes. "People are getting murdered, beaten and robbed and I'm showing up in court 10 times because Homer allowed his dick to make a decision. The courts should allow people to take responsibility for their own actions."
Young's views have made an imprint on a new generation of lawyers, many of whom took his theatrical classes at Osgoode.
"I remember the first day he came in wearing Chinese slippers, sat on a desk, and asked the students 'How the fuck are you?' It was bizarre," remembers lawyer Leora Shenesh, who took his first-year class in 1998. She also recalls how Young would get students to re-enact a crime using plastic vomit and how he gave students an exam question involving a "man with a tattooed ass." His flashiest scholastic stunt, however, was when he brought in Bedford to whip up appreciation for the S/M sector. Young was strapped into a straightjacket and hooked up to cattle prods for the lesson. "I wanted to demystify the law for students, bring it down the most basic level," he says.
Young's career reached its peak during the late 1990s. He was getting three or four requests a day for new cases and the international media was hounding him ( he even appeared on Geraldo ). Odd then, that he chose that moment to toss it all away. In 1999, he went on TVO to announce that he was through with law and was taking up the Japanese flute and shiatsu massage to mull over life's meaning. But it seemed that his period of quiet contemplation expired when he started writing a book that contends "Lawyers are a cancer on society," ( with chapters like "Killing all the lawyers" and "The Buddha in Paul Bernardo." )
He decided to write it after becoming fed up with the criminal justice system, and after his wife left him for a judge and he had some financial difficulties with his legal partner.
Young says it soon became too tricky to juggle Zen with the need to pump out a 500-page diatribe. "Here I would be in white robes meditating and then I'd have to get in front of the computer and chain-smoke and rant about blow jobs and lawyers."
So he dumped the Zen.
His book is now called Justice Defiled: Pot Heads, Perverts, Serial Killers and Lawyers. In it, Young argues that the adversarial justice system breeds corruption, elitism and inefficiency. He calls for the establishment of a "community court" where most problems are resolved among the interested parties. Of course, Justice Defiled isn't really a sober legal analysis. "I've written this book almost as if I'm at the bar stool ranting to someone I don't know," says Young. "I call it my professional suicide note."
Now, after two years of writing and re-writing, he found his goofballs and has his cover. Last spring, I meet up with Young at a lavish publishing expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The Key Porter booth is toasting its writers. Decked out in a Homer Simpson T-shirt, he takes me aside and complained that Key Porter has shied away from going with his cover suggestion of Madame Liberty screwing a dildo. "They think lawyers are going to be afraid to read it on the subway. Lawyers don't ride the fucking subway!" he says in a hush.
Despite his fretting over the cover, Young insists he'll be quite content as an artist toiling away at home on his computer. He's even gotten a head start on his next book and first novel, a story about the trial of Satan.
Still, I'm not convinced that he is through with the litigational limelight. Sitting in his newer, schmancier apartment -- a few blocks away from his old house -- he says, "Once I rid the country of the demonization of pot, everything will follow." He is leaning back in his leather chair, his knees once again jittering excitedly. There is a conspiratorial glint in his eyes.
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