Persecution follows the leaders of the Church of the Universe, Reverends Michael Baldasaro and Walter Tucker, like fire sweeping through a dry hemp field. They believe that marijuana is the Tree of Life, and while communities are often welcoming of their principles, local authorities are not.
While controversy burns the heels of the two prophet-bearded, hemp-wearing, joint-smoking reverends, it seems only to fire their convictions even more. They have a theory about why their religion is oppressed, demonstrative of their mutual, tempered and undeniable logic.
“We are probably the only church in existence that does not kiss the government’s ass…” begins Archbishop Baldasaro.
“…They nailed our leader to the cross because he was like us. We are just doing what the Lord would do if he were here today,” finishes the church’s founder, Walter Tucker.
Their latest place of residence was abandoned foundry land in Cambridge, where they were greeted with the same hysteria as in Guelph and Hamilton (see CC#9 & #10). Again, civic authorities began to agitate about unpaid taxes. Again, as in Guelph, there were claims that the land was polluted and needed to be cleaned up. Again, fires burned, an attempt to intimidate the two aging ministers. The owner of the property, John Long, was eventually pressured to sell the land to the city with the promise that local officials would forgive $500,000 in back taxes owing on the property.
Tellingly, no one had complained when the land was being polluted by industry, and no one complained when industry moved out, leaving massive unpaid property taxes.
Taxes and pollution only became issues after the Church of the Universe moved into those sites, and promised to clean them up. In both cases, the cities estimated clean-up to cost more than the value of the land itself. In both cases, the cities had given up hope of recovering lost property taxes. The Church of the Universe was actually doing taxpayers a favour, although local authorities characterized the church as a threat.
Arisen from the ashes, the church leaders now reside at the fittingly-named Phoenix Mission, in Hamilton.
Spiritual Jerusalem destroyed
Meanwhile, the Reverends hear that the conservation authority in Hamilton is planning to fill the watering hole at Clearwater Abbey with sand. The watering hole is where Tucker originally founded the church, and the church is still fighting in court to get it back.
Back in the 60’s the waters were a popular site for rowdy parties, but were converted into a peaceful setting for meditating marijuana smokers when the Church of the Universe was founded in ’69. Now that the church is no longer based there, the conservation authority is claiming that there is a problem with rowdy parties at the quarry again.
Scott Peck, the conservation authority’s environmental planner, also claims that the quarry at Clearwater Abbey is full of ground water.
“If you have 50 to 100 people there on a daily basis, what’s going to happen to the water quality?” he says.
Peck ignores or conveniently forgets that the quarry has been used for swimming for over 50 years without any water quality problems. Reverend Tucker, who once practiced diving with wetsuit and tank at Clearwater Abbey, knows why there has never been a problem with water quality.
“That quarry is spring fed. We had hundreds of people in there. And I always drank the water,” he asserts scornfully.
Others, like scuba diver Robbie Brown, acknowledge that even after 50 years, the waters are clear right to the bottom, with visibility of over 100 feet. Not exactly your typical “groundwater”.
The conservation authority long used deceit to keep church members from their holy lands. In 1998, Tucker and Baldasaro asked for permission to return to the land and hold religious services.
“Mr BW Vanderbrug, General Manager [at the Conservation Authority]told us that it was ‘not open to the public,’ that there is no public access,” Baldasaro recalls.
“But for years, the conservation authority has been allowing the property to be used by what they term ‘special friends.'”
Reverend Baldasaro for Prime Minister
Archbishop Michael Baldasaro wants to become the Prime Minister of Canada, and he recently began by running for leadership of the Progressive Conservative (PC) party. That was when he discovered that Canada’s so-called “democracy” is really only a limited choice between those wealthy enough to run for office. He was told to pay $30,000 just to become a candidate for party leader.
Instead, Reverend Baldasaro fought the charge as unconstitutional and counter to party rules. He filed a complaint and was told that the complaint would not be addressed because, although he was a party member, he was not a candidate for leader.
In defence of himself, Baldasaro quotes the party’s own laws, which state that any member can file a complaint, that any complaint about the leadership process will be addressed, and that the leadership rules can be changed “to conduct an open, fair and equitable Leadership Selection Process”(Section 10.4 of Conservative Party Constitution).
Baldasaro reasons that until the matter is decided in court, he is still a candidate. The Conservatives claim otherwise.
“Baldasaro is not a candidate,” said PC spokesperson Chris Breen, “and any ballot that has his name written on it will be counted as spoiled.”
In the meantime, the “Progressive Conservative Youth” invited Baldasaro and Tucker to speak at Westdale High School, about their lack of right to vote.
“We are teaching our children that they are powerless,” Baldasaro affirms. “We asked who felt powerless, and they all put up their hands. They go to school and get bullied. Kids have no protection, no power. They should have the vote to decide these issues for themselves.”
If the Conservatives continue to oppose Reverend Baldasaro, he plans to run as an independent … against Sheila Copps, the politician famous for her broken promise to do away with Canada’s hated Goods and Services Tax.
Fighting for freedom of religion
While attempting to become the government, the good reverends are also trying to change it. The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear their case for their religious freedom to smoke marijuana, without harassment from law enforcement officials. Baldasaro says that the Church of the Universe’s case is based on the renowned Chris Clay trial.
“In the Clay trial, Judge McCart said that marijuana isn’t harmful,” notes Baldasaro. “When a judge says there is no reason for this law because it is less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, the law should be thrown out. But they say we need more studies. That’s bullshit. Should we start burning witches again because there hasn’t been enough studies done?”
Before the case could go to Supreme Court, it had to be approved by a court bureaucrat, the Associate Senior Prothonotary, Mr Peter AK Giles. The crown had objected against the case going to Supreme Court, and the Prothonotary had to weigh the crown’s arguments. According to the crown, the Church of the Universe had no specific interest in marijuana legalization, with the veiled implication that the Church of the Universe was not a church at all. But Giles disagreed.
“I consider it self evident,” wrote the Prothonotary, “that the plaintiffs have a direct personal interest in challenging the validity of the legislation … this is a case where the plaintiff’s religious rights are alleged to be threatened.”
Perhaps some day more officials will recognize the church’s legitimacy. Perhaps the two reverends will be successful in fighting the fire of oppression with the fire of sacrament. Maybe, one day, religion will be free for everyone in Canada.