Cannabis activist and political refugee Renee Boje surrendered herself to the custody of Canadian authorities Friday morning, June 17, not knowing if a US extradition request would be honored and she would be taken away from her husband, son, and friends in Vancouver where she has lived for nearly eight years.
Boje was handcuffed and taken into custody after having received a decision yesterday in which Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler turned down Boje’s request for refugee status.
After a hearing in a Vancouver federal court, however, Boje was released from jail on bail. A judge had ruled that Cotler’s decision should be reviewed by the Canadian court system.
Chris Bennett ? Boje’s husband and a prominent cannabis activist-author who manages Marc Emery’s revolutionary Pot-TV Internetwork ? told a cheering crowd that his wife was being released.
He had harsh words for Cotler, saying that the Justice Minister, renowned for his human rights work, had “used my wife as a gold chip in the world of commerce with America, to continue ensured trade relations and other relations with America.”
“He’s showing no compassion in his decision, no evidence of human rights types of ideas. It’s purely a political decision,” Bennett said of Cotler’s decision to deny Boje refugee status.
Boje was arrested in California eight years ago on marijuana conspiracy charges. In the heady days after Californians passed Proposition 215 ? the precedent-setting medical marijuana law ? the attractive young artist worked on cannabis literature and activism with medical cannabis advocates and patients like Peter McWilliams and Todd McCormick in Southern California.
US federal authorities arrested Boje in connection with a medical cannabis garden run by McWilliams and McCormick in 1997. She was held for 72 hours. During that time, Boje found out how brutal jail can be. She was held in a federal women’s prison in Los Angeles, but male guards repeatedly strip searched her, uttered verbal threats of physical and sexual violence, and made lewd gestures.
Boje felt lucky to have been released on bail without being mistreated in prison. But the government’s mistreatment of her didn’t stop. As McCormick and McWilliams were being further investigated and put on trial for growing medical herb, police pressured Boje to testify against the two activists or be put in jail as a co-conspirator. She was told she would go to prison for at least ten years, and possibly for the rest of her life.
She refused to nark on her friends, so the feds made her life a living hell ? following her, calling her, interfering with her ability to earn a living, interrogating her. This went on for nearly a year.
During that time, Boje researched the American prison-industrial complex. She found compelling evidence of human rights abuses in prisons, especially against women. Fearing for her safety if she was sent to prison, she made up her mind that she would neither go to prison nor testify against her friends.
Instead, she went to Vancouver, Canada in 1998, where she was welcomed as a political refugee by cannabis seed entrepreneur, legalization advocate and philanthropist Marc Emery. He helped her get established in Canada. She opened her own business called Urban Shaman selling entheogenic supplements, did shows on Pot-TV, and gained international media attention as a drug war refugee who sought asylum in Canada and who told the world that the US drug war was a violation of human rights.
US authorities have been pressing for Boje’s extradition ever since she arrived in Canada. The courageous woman ? who fell in love, married Canadian cannabis activist, scholar and author Chris Bennett, and gave birth to a lovely son, Shiva ? fought valiantly to convince Canada’s immigration and justice authorities that she faced grave danger if she was returned to the United States.
She had high hopes for a favorable ruling from Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, long known as a human rights advocate and peace activist who specialized in fighting for the rights of oppressed minorities and women.
Instead, in a June 16 written decision described as “horrific” by Bennett, Cotler rejected Boje and set up the possibility that she would be sent back to the US, where she would presumably face criminal charges and the possibility of life in prison.
Ironies abound: Peter McWilliams died in 2000 because a judge would not let him use medical marijuana while he was on federal bail. Todd McCormick served nearly four years of a five year federal marijuana sentence and was released from prison in December, 2003.
There is now nobody for Boje to testify against. The feds have nothing to gain by imprisoning her in the US.
Drug war politics
Cotler’s rejection of Boje’s pleadings was inexplicable if one only examines his human rights record, and the compelling case that Boje and her lawyers made about the human rights abuses that plague American prisons and which characterize the American war on marijuana in general.
It would seem that a justice minister with such a powerful history of fighting for rights would clearly see the Boje case as a chance to strike a blow against the drug war.
But Cotler was surely ordered by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin not to rule in Boje’s favor, because doing so would create an international incident and perhaps cause a break in diplomatic relations between the US and Canada. The two countries are already at each other’s throats regarding trade, cannabis, continental military policy, and the US’s illegal war in Iraq.
If Cotler had ruled in favor of Boje, he would have been affirming, with the full weight of the Canadian government behind him, that the US is a rogue state that violates the human rights of its own citizens. There could have been repercussions in the United Nations, which has already determined that the US is violating human rights in its prisons at Guantanamo Bay and around the world.
US officials are waging a vicious drug war with Canada, demanding that Canadian federal and provincial governments much tighten their cannabis laws and enforcement so that there is uniform policy and procedure in the two countries. US politicians and pundits blame “BC bud” for corrupting American youth because it is so strong, ignoring the fact that most marijuana consumed in the US comes from Mexico or is grown domestically.
Americans officials also condemn Canada for not corralling Canadian seed retailer Marc Emery, who has provided tens of thousands of marijuana seeds to US growers, from which the growers have produced tons of mind-bending cannabis, along with many generations of clone crops that never would have existed in the US if it hadn’t been for Emery’s gathering together and disseminating superior worldwide weed genetics.
Unconcerned, Emery openly defies cannabis laws and has created the world’s most outrageous reality television show called The Contest, in which he gathers primo cannabis from the entire world, smokes it and rates it assisted by a crew of pot experts including hottie potbabes, Marijuana Man, and Chris Bennett, on his own television network at www.pot-tv.net.
The timing of Cotler’s announcement indicates that the recent US Supreme Court decision in the Raich case was a factor in his ruling. If the Supreme Court had affirmed the rights of cannabis growers and caregivers to grow and provide marijuana without federal interference in states like California where medpot has been made legal, the federal government would have had no right to pursue Boje any longer.
But because the Supremes ruled against Raich, reaffirming the right of federal drug agents to arrest pot people in states where medpot is legal, Cotler probably felt that Boje was technically arrestable under US federal law, and that he could not afford to put the Canadian government in the position of standing down the US government any longer.
Cotler’s written response to Boje is a rote dismissal of the evidence she presented regarding human rights violations in US prisons, as well as the irregularities in her case. It also downplays the obvious differences between Canada’s approach to marijuana and the more hard-line approach favored by the US.
The basic if unstated main theme of Cotler’s rejection of Boje’s refugee claim is that backing Boje would have caused big problems between the US and Canada.
In December, 2001, hundreds of people watched the mystical Gnostic wedding of Chris Bennett and Renee Boje, who were married in a quiet coastal village near Vancouver.
The event was attended friends, relatives and prominent cannabis activists from around the world. The couple’s hour long ritual featured original music, a surrealistic, rave-quality light show, a ganja-infused wedding ceremony conducted by author and reverend Chris Conrad, dozens of costumed dancers and actors, and memorable moments of high emotion and gentle humor.
Bennett and Boje met in 1999 while both were working for Marc Emery, who sponsored the wedding. Emery was Bennett’s best man. Boje was escorted to the wedding dais by bridesmaids dressed in colorful pot-leaf fairy costumes, bearing magic wands made of joints.
During the climax of the marriage ritual, Conrad instructed Emery to pack a bowl of BC Emerybud in a three foot high ornate glass bong. Bennett and Boje took deep hits off the bong and exchanged the scared smoke during a kiss as the crowd applauded and prayed.
Also present that special day was the couple’s son Shiva, who is now three years old. At the time, he was in Renee’s body; his mom’s bare, swollen stomach was painted with ancient fertility symbols.
Three years later, Shiva is a sweet, lovely child who basks in the glow of his parent’s love.
Speaking from Vancouver just after Cotler’s decision was handed down, Bennett noted that Shiva was feeling the weight of his mom’s fate. The author-activist wondered about the family values of drug warriors who proclaim they are protecting children.
“This ruling is horrible and devastating for my family,” Bennett said. “It totally discounts the strong arguments we made about the differences between Canadian marijuana law and US marijuana law, and about the human rights violations routinely found in US jails and prisons.”
Bennett notes that if Boje is shipped back to the US and imprisoned, it violates his rights as a father and husband. Boje is not likely to easily be let back into Canada, regardless of the ultimate outcome of her court cases in the US, and Bennett is unable to enter the United States.
“I have no criminal convictions, but that doesn’t matter to US border authorities,” Bennett explains. “If you work as a cannabis activist, you are banned from entering the US. That means I can’t see my wife. It means our son can’t see his mother. They are destroying our family.”
Legal experts predicted that Boje had a good chance of getting judicial review and bail. The judicial review could take years, and one expert said that it is not likely that the Canadian government would turn Boje over to US authorities at this time, due to political considerations.
Vancouver attorney David Aaron is a personal friend of Boje who has a background in Foreign Affairs, human rights, international law, and administrative law. After studying Cotler’s decision, Aaron provided the following comment:
“Fortunately, our Courts exercise judicial oversight over Ministerial decisions such as this one. The Minister’s decision was undoubtedly affected by political factors which would have rendered his refusal of the USA’s extradition request a diplomatic faux pas.
“The Minister has left it for the Courts to do what the Canadian Government could not do: stand up to the United States on the basis of a distinction between the Canadian and American view of justice. I am hopeful that, in reviewing the decision, the Court of Appeal will be more impressed by the humanitarian factors at play than the political factors. The preservation of Canadian values requires that Canada distinguish itself from the oppressive elements of American society on an issue such as this.”
Aaron’s legal opinion turned out to be correct, and, at least until her next hearing in September, Boje can remain in Canada.
It could have gone the other way. If the judge at today’s hearing had ruled against her, Renee would have been taken immediately from the Court and sent to America to stand trial. This morning would have been the last time in a long time, perhaps forever, that Boje, her husband, and her child could hold hands and hug each other in person.
Bail for Boje: The Fight Continues
By Kirk Tousaw
The Courtroom was filled with friends and supporters, and the spillover crowd in the halls of the BC Law Courts strained to hear as the Judge rendered his decision. A sigh of relief, then cheers, rang out in the building when bail was granted. Renee would remain free as she fights her extradition to the United States.
Today’s hearing marked the latest in Renee’s long battle to remain free in Canada with her husband, Chris Bennett, and their young son Shiva. Though it seemed certain that bail would be granted (Renee has been out on bail for a long time, has never violated her conditions and the Crown was not opposing bail) it is always difficult when your fate is in the hands of a stranger, and your own hands are in cuffs. Fortunately the judge agreed and, after a few hours of paperwork, Renee walked out of the court to rejoin her family.
Renee will continue to fight extradition to the United States. She has the right to challenge Justice Minister Cotler’s decision and can appeal the original BC Supreme Court ruling that ordered her extradition (available in the Renee Boje archives at www.johnconroy.com). Those fights will take time, and will be costly. To support Renee, please donate to her defense fund. For more information, please visit www.reneeboje.com.
The BC Supreme Court Decision
The first avenue of attack is to appeal the decision of the BC Supreme Court. This appeal will be heard in the BC Court of Appeal (for our American readers, the BC Court of Appeal is the highest provincial court whereas the BC Supreme Court is a lower trial court). Basically, Renee will argue that the lower court erred when it decided to order her extradition to the United States. The BC Marijuana Party intends to seek leave to file an amicus brief on Renee’s behalf in the Court of Appeal.
The Justice Minister’s Decision
Another way to challenge Renee’s extradition is to go after Justice Minister Cotler’s recent determination. Minister Cotler’s role was to decide whether to surrender Renee to the US authorities, after the BC Supreme Court determined that she should be extradited. The relevant legislation gives Mr. Cotler the authority to refuse to surrender Renee in a number of situations.
Unfortunately, Mr. Cotler denied each and every one of Renee’s arguments. This denial, however, is subject to judicial review. Essentially, Renee will be arguing that Mr. Cotler made legal errors in coming to his decision to surrender her to the United States. If this argument succeeds, Minister Cotler may be ordered to reconsider.
One thing to keep in mind is that Minister Cotler is not a judge. He is a politician. And politicians depend on the support of the public. Now, more than ever, it is critical to put political pressure on Minister Cotler and the rest of Parliament. Our government should be ashamed of Cotler’s decision. The United States federal system imposes horrific penalties and refuses to allow defendants to raise medical necessity as a defense to marijuana charges. That is not justice and we need to tell Mr. Cotler that he should be protecting Renee from persecution, not throwing her to the wolves.