Cannabis Culture magazine faced down police censorship in Timmins, Ontario, and won.
In late September, police in Timmins, Ontario began threatening local storeowners with arrest if they continued selling Cannabis Culture and High Times magazines. As a result, both were pulled off the shelves of all stores in the city.
The story began when a pair of High Times magazines were seized from a Grade 7 student by Principal Mickey Pirie. “These magazines don’t belong in any school and they certainly won’t be in our school,” Pirie told Timmins’ Daily Press, right after calling the police.
The Daily Press reported that Timmins cops spent nine long months investigating the magazines, their detective work finally revealing that both High Times and Cannabis Culture were available at a few convenience stores and other locations in town.
Timmins Police Constable Joe Romualdi took it upon himself to pressure stores into not carrying the magazines, describing them as “crime comics” and successfully threatening the half-dozen local outlets into returning all copies of both titles. The Daily Press reported that “the seizure will be voluntary at first but can involve criminal charges if need be.”
As magazines were being stacked for return, Romualdi was telling our national distributors that he would be working to have Cannabis Culture banned from all of Ontario.
“To sell or distribute the magazines is illegal,” said Romualdi. “If they continue to bring it in, they will be dealt with. But I don’t anticipate any problems.”
CC fights back
One problem Constable Romualdi didn’t anticipate was that Cannabis Culture would not tolerate this kind of censorship.
Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery bought a half-page ad in Timmins’ Daily Press, protesting the “arbitrary and brazen behavior by the police,” and explaining how Timmins cops “are trying to stifle Canada’s only magazine devoted to defending the decent human dignity that we are all entitled to, as Canadians and as the Cannabis Culture.”
Renowned pro-pot lawyer Alan Young was retained to send a letter to Timmins Police Chief Denis Lavoie, in which he explained that “Cannabis Culture is protected expression and what your officers have done constitutes a very serious breach of this fundamental freedom.”
Young also told Chief Lavoie that “Mr Emery will not initiate legal proceedings immediately as he is willing to give you an opportunity to make amends. We are asking that you take the following steps to right this wrong:
1) Issue a cease and desist order to all Timmins police officers to ensure that no further action is taken which is directed towards the removal of this magazine from retail outlets in Timmins;
2) Issue a letter of apology to Marc Emery expressing regret over the improvident violation of his expressive freedom under s.2(b) of the Charter.”
Finally, Emery flew to Timmins on Saturday, October 21, and openly gave out 300 signed copies of Cannabis Culture in front of the police station, while giving a fiery speech and smoking the occasional joint.
This strategy worked surprisingly well, and showed that the police will back down when appropriately challenged. The police made no threats or arrests during Emery’s public magazine give-away, and backed down from their claims that Cannabis Culture is an illegal publication. Constable Gilles Carbonneau told the Daily Press that Timmins police “have no problems with the written word.”
On October 27, the Timmins Police Service had their lawyer, Gordon Conley, write back to Alan Young. Conley assured Young and Emery that “it is not the intention of the Timmins Police to pursue the removal of the magazine Cannabis Culture or any other similar magazines from the shelves of retail outlets in Timmins. …we are of the view that such magazines… do not represent crime comics or illegal magazines pursuant to the Criminal Code of Canada.”
The letter also stated that “Timmins Police Service apologizes for any embarrassment or inconvenience that may have resulted to your client as a result of this investigation.”
Pattern of harassment
Cannabis Culture has been pulled off Canadian store shelves a half-dozen times since we began publishing in 1994. We have also recorded many instances of police threats and harassment against stores which carry CC. However, this was the first time that police successfully threatened all stores in a town to stop carrying our magazine, and this is also the first time that we have forced the police to issue a formal apology for their actions.
The “crime comic” legislation to which Constable Romualdi referred is a strange, antequated Canadian law which bans any “magazine, periodical or book that exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially (a) the commission of crimes, real or fictitious; or (b) events connected with the commission of crimes, real or fictitious.” Taken literally, this law would ban every super-hero comic on the shelves. No-one has been convicted under this law, and only a few vendors of comic books were ever charged. Alan Young called Romualdi’s claim that CC is a crime comic “bizarre and unfounded.”
“This law was passed in 1955,” explained Marc Emery, “inspired by a book by Frederick Wertham called Seduction of the Innocent, which placed the blame for juvenile deliquency squarely on comic books. With a year of its release, the McCarthy-inspired Congress in the USA and the Canadian parliament had both comdemned comic books and passed legislation outlawing them. 80% of the comic book titles available in Canada and the USA in 1952 had disappeared by 1957.”
All pro-pot literature (and paraphernalia) is banned in Canada under Section 462.2 of the Criminal Code. The literature restriction was deemed unconstitutional by Ontario’s highest court in 1994, but technically remains in force across the rest of Canada except Ontario. It is only sporadically enforced, and would easily fall to a solid constitutional challenge.
Cannabis Culture and other pro-pot literature is also banned in many other nations, including Australia and France, and must be accompanied by warnings in New Zealand and a disclaimer in the UK. There is ongoing pressure within the US Congress to ban pro-pot magazines and websites under variations of the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act.
Cannabis Culture has a tradition of fighting the censorship of cannabis information. Publisher Marc Emery was the first major distributor of High Times in Canada in 1993, and Cannabis Culture has been active in supporting stores which have had their pot literature seized. We have provided free magazines and financial assistance to a number of hemp stores in Canada, as well as PolyEster Books in Melbourne, Australia.
? For the original articles and more information, go to: Cannabis Culture protests censorship, Cannabis Culture pulled off shelves in Ontario and ‘Illegal’ marijuana magazines found for sale in Timmins