Escaping the Land of the Free

The idea that what makes us different from the U.S. is something to celebrate rather than criticize may be a difficult concept for some people to grasp. Thankfully, Albert Nerenberg isn’t one of them. In “Escape to Canada”, director Nerenberg zooms in squarely on our relatively easy acceptance of gay marriage and our lax attitude to marijuana, two recent developments in the culture wars that sets us apart from our cousins to the south.
Nerenberg’s documentary points out that while the U.S. may bill itself as the land of the free, Canada has a strong claim to the title of the freest place in the world.

Vancouver has played a big role in changing the country’s international image from boring to cool, especially when it comes to challenging the laws on smoking and selling cannabis. Escape revisits the brief experiment in civil disobedience at the Da Kine Cafe on Commercial Drive which openly sold up to 12 strains of pot until Vancouver police moved in and closed the operation down, SWAT-style, in 2004.

In addition to interviews with well-known pot activists such as Marc Emery and David Malmo-Levine, Nerenberg also includes the lesser-known Watermelon, who sweetly recounts how she’s beaten several charges of selling ginger snap cookies full of pot on Wreck Beach.

Although Nerenberg never forgets his sense of irony — he’s Canadian after all — things turn serious when he interviews American gay couples who describe how getting married in Canada made them feel as if they had finally been accepted by society.

It’s easy to grow blase at how we’ve accepted gay marriage until you realize how divisive it has become south of the border.
When you hear U.S. politicians describe Emery as a drug dealer, you want to laugh. Whatever you think about Emery’s masterful self-promotion, he’s a pot activist involved in civil disobedience not a thug who thumps someone in a back alley over a drug deal gone sour.

The only problem is that those U.S. politicians are deadly serious: They’re already trying to extend their war on drugs across the border and want to extradite Emery and charge him for selling marijuana seeds, something which he’s done here without a problem for a decade.

In “Escape to Canada”, Nerenberg makes Canada look exactly like the place we already know it to be: fun and free.

? Humourist Nerenberg is working on his next documentary for the CBC called “Let’s All Hate Toronto”. His last popular film was the documentary “Stupidity”.

? Visit the Escape to Canada website and view segments of the film at, and find out if and when it’s playing near you.

? Escape to Canada, which closed the DOXA Documentary Film and Video Festival on Sunday, is playing today and Wednesday and again on June 6 and 7 at the Vancity Theatre at the Vancouver International Film Centre on Seymour at Davie. More information at