By Dan Loehndorf
The Church of the Universe
is Canada’s foremost advocate for the legalization of cannabis for religious
and? spiritual purposes. Since 1969, they have been tirelessly fighting
to have the Canadian legal establishment recognize their inalienable right
to freedom of religion.
<>??? In this first of two parts,
Dan Loehndorf examines the early beginnings of the church, from its inception
in the late 60’s to the persecutions of the early 80’s, when church members
were driven from their sacred ground and into jail.
<>The second installment will cover the Supreme
Court trials that ensued when church members began to fight back, and their
efforts to found a “Hempire Village”. It will also look at the vision of
the church and its future directions.
LEFT AND RIGHT : Church of the Universe members
celebrating the Church’s “Nude Olympics” in 1980. The idea of taking your
clothes off is to show that you are willing to stand before God exactly
as he created you, without shame.
do people feel when they come to worship God at their church and find that
the door has been broken in, the sacrament desecrated, the reverend beaten
and jailed by police, and the land confiscated by politicians?
Ask a member of the Church of the Universe. They believe in the sacredness
of marijuana, they believe in nudity as the expression of humanity, and
they have been persecuted by governments and police since the church’s
inception on August 9, 1969. Since that day, the church’s mandate has been:
“…to worship God and live with the the Tree of Life, Marijuana, in harmony
with the Universe. We, God’s people, believe that it is our responsibility
to defend our right to our sacrament, the Tree of Life, and encourage the
worship and adherence to the Law of God to earn the right to the Tree of
Life and The Water of Life…”
the church’s inception, founder Reverend Tucker and his fellow members
have adhered to the church’s mandate. The result has been numerous arrests,
court cases, search and seizures, and even some strange victories for the
Tetrahedron High Council, the leaders of the church.
There was once a time, however, when church members could stroll naked
in a forest of hemp, smoking their sacrament, and bathing in clear waters.
Their holy smoke wrote God’s word into the sky, too soon erased by the
THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH
In the late 60’s, Walter Tucker was a family man. But his wife and family
would leave him as he devoted his life to worship and the divine weed.
I can imagine Tucker the day he decided to seek God through the enlightenment
of marijuana. Standing with his friend, Fran Fralich, on the ice of a quarry
that had long ago been reclaimed by water, getting ready to dive in and
swim around the quarry’s frozen depths with a wet-suit and tank. For Walter
Tucker, the freedom of the swim became the vision of a kind of spiritual
freedom. He turned to Fran and announced, “This is where I want to live.
This is where I want to die.” He meant it.
Tucker soon spoke to the owners of the place, Canada Cut and Crushed Stone,
and they agreed to let him stay there for up to 100 years, for a small
monthly lease rate, as long as Tucker took care of the place. On the 360
acres of wilderness and spring-fed quarry, Walter Tucker blessed the land
with a new name, “Clearwater Abbey”, and founded a new religion, the Church
of the Universe.
The Hempy 70’s
Reverend Tucker, first high priest of hemp, grew his hair and beard long
and began to wear hempen cloth. The church was inundated with new members.
Buildings were erected. Church members shared their bare skins with the
sun and rocks, partaking freely of their sacrament. The Tree of Life took
hold in the soil, drinking from the wellspring of the quarry, and grew.
As the forest of hemp grew, so too did Reverend Tucker’s vision, planted
firmly in the earth of Clearwater Abbey. “I want to save the world,” he
said, “and I’m ready to start right here in Canada.”
The church refused
no-one access to the quarry’s waters. Like holy men of the past, Reverend
Tucker welcomed everyone. From seminarian students to “samaritan” bikers
– all were welcome. A council of the church’s foremost leaders, the Tetrahedron
High Council, was formed. From the hempen circle of members that congregated
at Clearwater, Reverend Tucker began ordaining ministers and missionaries.
It would be the very members Reverend Tucker welcomed into the church that
would attract negative attention from the outside world. When anything
went wrong, the media hastened to blame unidentified “bikers” who had joined
For example, in 1975, a body was found somewhere on the 360 acres that
comprised Clearwater’s lands. It was badly decomposed, and may have been
there before the church’s inception. No church member was ever implicated
in the death. Yet, even in the 90’s, without a shred of evidence, the media
continues to claim that unidentified “…bikers who frequented Clearwater
at the time, drawn by its seclusion and pot-smoking activities”1 could
have been somehow responsible for the body.
Despite some bad publicity, the decade of the 70’s was a hempy era for
the church. Yet by the end of the decade, the church had become a sacrificial
goat to the corruption of corporate Canada. So began an era of persecution.
CLEARWATER ABBEY PILLAGED
Reverend Tucker: “There is no
other home. This is where God sent me.”
Canada Cut and Crushed Stone, which had allowed the church to live on the
land for so long, was soon to be absorbed by Steetly Industries, a powerful
company with international interests, and a dislike for Reverend Walter
Tucker and his faith.
The year is 1982. June at Church of the Universe’s spiritual Jerusalem.
Reverend Tucker and other church members are resting naked on blankets
and upon the warm rocks that cup the water of the abbey like a baptismal
fount. A blessing of sacrament hangs in the summer air. Then, without warning,
a metal beast is let loose among the faithful. Car engines and carbon monoxide
assault the peace. Church members are forced to flee as cars drive right
up onto their blankets. It is time for Steetly Industries’ annual staff
They had given church members only last-minute notice to clear out, and
Reverend Tucker had refused their request.
Reverend Tucker recalls, “Jo-Anne and I sat here at the front, and they
wouldn’t even slow down going through the yard. In fact they sped up. It
was like someone walked into a restaurant along with all his friends, smashed
the dishes, insulted the help, ordered the whole menu and in the end refused
to pay for anything.”
The automobile attack was the latest in Steetley’s attempts to force church
members off of the property. The year before they had tried raising the
rent. “Then they prepared a lease that said I’d never lived there,” Reverend
Tucker says, “that I didn’t live there now and that I wouldn’t live there
in the future. I didn’t sign it.”
When Tucker complained about the automobile attack, Steetly casually asked
him to send them a bill. Tucker’s bill was for $1,900,000. When Steetly
refused to pay, Tucker began to deduct his rent from the amount owing.
The matter eventually came to court, and the judge sided with Steetly,
against the marijuana missionaries.
Reverend Tucker was eventually denied an appeal to the Supreme Court of
Canada. The next day, a writ of possession and notice to quit were served
against Reverend Tucker. He was to be forced from his home.
Videotape, June 17/86
Several large Police Officers and the Sheriff of the County of Wellington
confront Tucker at the door of his dwelling-house. He stands there clothed
only in his beard. Tucker reveals to the officers that their documents
do not conform with the judge’s order, and asks them to leave.
Tucker: “You are trespassing. I am asking you all to leave.”
“We have no intentions of leaving. Unless you leave immediately, you will
be charged with committing a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of
Canada and placed under arrest.”
Reverend Tucker: “What are you going to charge me with? Am I under arrest?
Will you get out of my way?
The police officers refuse to move and allow Tucker free passage, even
though they have asked him to leave. Then two of them grab him, twist his
arms behind his back and falsely charge him with obstructing a police officer.
After removing Tucker, the police proceed to remove Sister Jo-Anne Tucker,
and Reverend Michael Baldasaro, charging them as well, even though their
names are not on the writ.
“We had originally been illegally removed from Church Property by 30 SWAT
Ontario Provincial Police who refused to let us put on our clothing. Her
Majesty’s minions chained us, wrapped us in orange plastic blankets, threw
us into the back of a paddy wagon, dragged us away to a jail cell and then
to court where we were forced to appear before a Justice of the Peace for
a bail hearing in blankets.”
Church members still wear blankets to court as a visual protest of the
injustices they suffer at the hands of the police and courts.
THE BATTLE FOR JUSTICE AFTER
Attempts to Cover Up Details of the Case
The charges of resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer were eventually
brought to trial. However, rather than let the police video tape come to
public attention, the prosecutor failed to provide Tucker with any information
regarding the arrest. Tucker’s right to full disclosure was ignored.
On July 10, 1989, Provincial Court Judge Bruce Payne stayed the charges
against Reverends Tucker and Baldasaro, and Sister Jo-Anne. During the
aborted proceedings Judge Payne acknowledged “Clearly there has been an
abuse of the legal process by the Crown attorney.”
Police beat Elderly Reverend Tucker Unconscious
On July 12, 1989, two days after the court decision, Reverend Tucker and
Sister Jo-Anne returned to the site to swim. The media were there. The
police were there. But no one seems to agree about what happened next.
In the September
1989 High Times Magazine, Tucker reports that, “The last time I talked
to the cops (OPP), I told them I had a right to my land, showed them the
papers and told them I was going for a swim. The next thing I knew I was
in the hospital. The media was there and lots of people with cameras. They
all saw it and some tell me that after I turned around one of the cops
punched me in the kidneys and I fell into the other one. Then they just
started beating me. I might have been a little lippy but I’m a non-violent
The Guelph Mercury, on July 17, 1989, reports that “When Tucker entered
the laneway into the conservation authority, a struggle ensued and he was
placed under arrest [for]…trespassing and resisting arrest.”
Four years later, the Guelph Mercury, on October 28, 1993, claims that
“He [Tucker] was arrested and grabbed and everyone fell down in what police
described as a struggle.”
The police contend that the struggle happened first, and that the arrest
happened afterward. But Reverend Tucker and the Guelph Mercury story of
July 17, 1989, seem to agree that the “struggle” (or beating) happened
before the arrest ? a violation of human rights dating back to the
Note how, in the October 28, 1993, article, the Guelph Mercury has rewritten
its story to conform with the story of the arresting officer, Jim Christie.
The paper now contends that Tucker was “arrested and grabbed”, rather than
grabbed and then arrested. Never is there a mention of “excessive force”,
even though Reverend Tucker, a man in his early sixties, had been beaten
unconscious and placed in the hospital by an armed “Officer of the Law”.
The next day, Reverend Tucker announced plans to hold a “Nude Olympics”
at the swimming hole. He was again arrested and charged with trespassing
and resisting arrest. He and other church members were eventually forced
to stop frequenting Clearwater Abbey.
Although Steetly Industries seemed to need the land, it was later sold
to the Hamilton Region Conservation Society. Clearwater Abbey’s church
and residence was then bulldozed. The site remains unused to this day.
And the church’s battle for the property goes on.
“We will win,” Reverend Sister Jo-Anne Tucker asserts, “We’ll get our place
back if I have to fight them to my dying day.” Reverends Tucker and Baldasaro
also believe that, through their efforts in court, Clearwater Abbey will
be returned to them soon.
THE LONG HARM OF THE LAW
Attacks on the church forced it to transform itself, to become a fluid
entity – a prerequisite to survival. From the church flowed a need to defend
itself from government and industry, a need which condensed and became
the Faculty for Legal Self-Defence (LSD), an arm of the church’s Universe
The faculty demands that students demonstrate what they learn in practical
exercises: degrees are earned for preparing and defending real court cases.
A doctoral degree is awarded for defending a case in Supreme Court, a complicated
legal maneuver many lawyers never undertake.
Some of the church’s most noteworthy cases have involved possession and
trafficking charges. Throughout an innumerable number of cases, the Tetrahedron
High Council is patient and outraged, stoic but also wrathful. They are
like a three-part Moses, waiting for the red sea to part, so that they
can lead their people to freedom.
Jailed for Silence
In 1984 Reverend Baldasaro is caught with the Tree of Life, marijuana,
At the trial Reverend
Baldasaro sits before the judge like the statue of a saint. He is still
and silent, imbued with the air of righteousness befitting a holy man.
Because the good reverend refuses to say anything, the Justice Borkovich
decides to render a decision about the church’s belief in marijuana as
the Tree of Life ? without a single piece of factual evidence upon
which to base a conclusion:
“…I don’t know if you [Church of the Universe members] burn it or you
smoke it or whether you eat it [marijuana]. One would have thought that
if it was a sine qua non of your faith that we would have heard some evidence
as to the manner of how this became important to you in your faith. That
is another reason that I believe the whole matter is a con.”2
Baldasaro is sentenced to six months in jail. He makes plans to appeal.
By law, factual evidence is necessary before a judge can render a decision
in regards to a person’s charter rights. In rendering his decision, Justice
Borkovich has broken the law.
Police Steal Money
and Sacrament from Church Leaders
It is November 9, 1990. Reverends Walter and Jo-Anne have performed their
sacred duties for the day and gone to sleep.
At 11:45 pm, their door explodes into a shower of splinters and glass,
as police officers shatter it with a sledge hammer and then shout, “Warrant!”
The police have just violated a Supreme Court of Canada ruling (1981, Colet
vs The Queen), which states that “Police are never justified in entering
onto private property unless they announce their presence and demonstrate
their lawful authority with a warrant.”
Not only do they fail to display a search warrant before entering the private
residence, they cannot even produce a valid search warrant when Reverend
Tucker stumbles out of his bedroom stark naked and asks to see one.
Knowing that they are acting illegally, the RCMP and Hamilton-Wentworth
police then proceed to search the home anyway. They steal 3.5 pounds of
church sacrament, $18,000 dollars in cash and silver, and continue to ravage
the Tuckers’ private home. They also charge Reverend Tucker and Sister
Jo-Anne Tucker with possession for the purpose of trafficking.
When the matter comes to court, Justice Joseph Scime denies Walter and
Jo-Anne a trial by jury – yet another violation of basic human rights dating
back to the Magna Carta. Trial by jury would have focussed public attention
on the case, and on the abuses of the RCMP.
Rather than engage in an embarrassing trial, Justice Scime acquits both
Tuckers, even though both have refused to testify or even cross-examine
In the local media, the facts of the case are altered. Although the Tuckers
have refused to even testify, The Spectator reports that, “charges were
dropped when Mr Tucker convinced a judge the search warrant was invalid.”3
In The Hamilton Spectator, the Tuckers are made look foolish for “jumping
to their feet” and asserting that their charter rights have been violated
when they have just been acquitted of all charges.
No investigation into police behavior follows the court case.
Says Reverend Walter, “That’s the second time they’ve withdrawn charges
against us and just kept what they stole. They’re thieves, man.”
of the Universe in the Supreme Court, and the founding of a Hempire Village.
1. Jim Holt, “Faces
of the Church of the Universe.” The Spectator. November 17, 1994.
2. J. Borkovich,
“Reasons for Sentence.” Court Transcript. As it appears on the Church of
the Universe website.
3. Barbara Brown,
“Acquital angers pot-church pair.” The Spectator. June 29, 1994.