The tenets of a Toronto organization seeking a religious exemption to marijuana prohibitions were described by a federal government prosecutor yesterday as a “fictitious artifice” and a ruse by cannabis enthusiasts.
“This is an inside joke among people who like to smoke marijuana,” suggested Crown attorney Nicholas Devlin during cross-examination of a senior member of the Church of the Universe.
“I have heard that,” said Brother Peter Styrsky, who maintained that this was an unfair characterization of the Toronto chapter of the church, known as the G13 Mission.
Mr. Styrsky and Brother Shahrooz Kharaghani are both facing charges of street-level marijuana trafficking, based out of the Mission, which is also a store in east-end Toronto that sells organic goods.
The two men have launched a constitutional challenge to the prohibition against possessing and distributing marijuana, arguing it violates their freedom of religion under the Charter of Rights.
The G13 Mission, which is named after a strain of cannabis, treats marijuana as a sacrament that brings people closer to God.
During a wide-ranging cross-examination of Mr. Styrsky, the flexible aspects of his church were repeatedly critiqued by the Crown.
“You don’t have any rules as to how to use sacrament,” Mr. Devlin suggested.
“We shy away from tobacco. Our only official way is for you to decide,” Mr. Styrsky replied.
The witness agreed that church members are permitted to make
their own choice as to who is their God and it does not have an official position on issues such as abortion.
“I think a woman’s right to choose overrides a religious belief held by someone else. My wife has a different view. But I won’t tell someone what to believe,” Mr. Styrsky said.
The prosecutor also questioned the lack of structure of the G13 Mission, the statements in a declaration that members must sign and grammatical errors in the charter it received from the Hamilton-based founders of the Church of the Universe.
“The purpose of the church is community, it is not to force theology. For Jesus, his church was his people, not a building or an organization,” Mr. Styrsky said.
When asked about the negative effects of marijuana, Mr. Styrsky disagreed with the suggestion. “It definitely gives you a point of view. It enhances your perception,” said the witness, who also cited medical uses for cannabis.
The cross-examination sparked objections from the defence when the Crown suggested there was a financial motivation for Mr. Styrsky to invoke religious grounds to distribute marijuana.
Mr. Devlin noted that Mr. Styrsky owes money to Revenue Canada in unpaid taxes and penalties, from when he owned a small trucking business.
“You wanted to sell marijuana to anyone who had cash money,” Mr. Devlin charged.
“No. We wanted it to go to people who would use it as sacrament,” Mr. Styrsky said.
The Charter challenge before Superior Court Justice Thea Herman is whether there is religious protection for illegal marijuana use and not the specific evidence related to the trafficking charges.
The hearing is scheduled to last four weeks.
– Article from The National Post.