Da Kine: a love story

Shadowy police raidShadowy police raidThe Da Kine Caf? story has been done to death in the mainstream media since a swat team-style police raid shut it down in September: the alleged crimes, the statistics, the editorials, the court reports and the opinion pieces? it’s old news. What hasn’t been portrayed, however, are the actual players in this saga. Aside from what was published in the mainstream press what does anyone know about the woman who owned Da Kine or the man whose vision backed the project? This is a profile of those people, their philosophies and their lives together?
Carol Gwilt and Don Briere have been together as a couple for about a year and a half. “I miss him terribly every day,” Carol says, and though reluctant to admit it, sitting in his jail cell at the N Fraser Pre-trial Centre in Port Coquitlam, Don feels the same.

Last spring, with Don’s support, Carol opened the Da Kine Smoke & Beverage Shops. It was a centre for cannabis activism in Vancouver, attracting pot crusaders from across the country and pot tourists from around the globe. Don and Carol were funding a pilot project television series at Da Kine. “We were funding quite a few things, all positive, above-board, getting-community-people-involved activism,” Carol explains.

Da Kine opened May 4/04, providing medicinal marijuana and functioning as any other business on Commercial Drive. An overzealous mainstream media pressured city hall and the local police for two weeks (both were tolerant of the cafe) Unwilling to let their non-story die, local reporters applied pressure on the attorney general’s office. September 9/04 balaclava-clad police officers stormed into Carol and Don’s dream – and shut it down.

Carol was released after 24 hours. She was re-arrested on a release order violation, about a week later and held for 32 days. She got out of jail on her birthday, Oct 18/04.

Several days after the Da Kine raid Don was arrested and charged with possession of cannabis for the purpose of trafficking. He’s been in custody for nearly 4 months and hasn’t seen the sun since he was locked up; his court appearances are by video from the pretrial centre. Don’s vision is, however, in no way tarnished by the closure of Da Kine or the jail time. It only strengthens his resolve, he vows in a recent phone interview.

Carol is currently out on bail awaiting three trials for her involvement but still holds on to the dream as stalwartly as her partner. Her business folded before her eyes while she was in jail. Now, there are people advising her to give up the vision of Da Kine. She’s being advised to get out of it and go do something else. “That’s bullshit.” Carol has no regrets. She believes the cause is a worthwhile one. To her, Da Kine is still very much alive.

They didn’t know each other in 1999 when Surrey RCMP raided and shut down Don’s pot business. Crown Counsel said he was running the largest grow operation they had ever seen in BC. He was sentenced, October 2001, to four years for pot cultivation, money laundering and on one weapons charge stemming from the unsafe storage of five guns and ammunition. He was released on full parole in June 2003.

Carol and Don’s first meeting was because she was looking for information on a business venture. “I met him just after he got out of jail,” Carol recalls. “I was running a hemp shop and looking into starting up my own compassion club group in my shop. Don’s name came up at that time; he was flogging this Da Kine thing – the medical franchises.” She remembers feeling very comfortable with him, right away.

They discussed her dream of a compassion club and his vision of a string of Da Kine cafes providing medical cannabis. Don founded the Canadian Sanctuary Society in August 2001. Carol was very interested in the medical aspect and Don had his franchise idea already so they started working toward that end, together.

Their relationship was strictly business at first. Carol smiles. “He talked about his kids and I thought he was married. I didn’t even know he wasn’t for a couple of months.” Eventually she invited Don to make pot cookies at her house. Carol insists that making canna cookies was not used as an excuse to get him over to her place. “Well, at the beginning of the night it wasn’t an excuse,” she admits, grinning, her cheeks flushed behind her hand over her face.

Since that night they’ve worked every day putting it together. “Our relationship has been mostly just fun. It’s the pot and the legalization issues that bond us and we have that commitment to it. Don is a fabulous organizer and leader,” Carol points out. “Before he went down in 1999 he had 80 employees and ran the whole thing – all in his head! He should be the CEO of a large corporation or something, not sitting in a jail cell.”

Carol chuckles at the idea of a love story. “Don’s not a romantic guy,” she warns.

“Well, ya, we’re kinda going out,” blonde-haired Don laughs nervously and blushes audibly over the telephone line. “I knew Carol was an advocate and a smoker. We made contact and smoked, talked and found we had a common goal.”

His take on the “cookies” incident was that someone needed to teach Carol how to make the budder before doing the baking. “I told her the proper way is to make budder first, then make the cookies.” Don says that’s why he went over to Carol’s place that evening. “We made the budder and then we made the cookies,” he pauses? “Then cooled them down?” he takes a deep breath.

Carol GwiltCarol Gwilt“I’m not a romantic type of guy,” Don explains. “I don’t think along those lines, but,” he predicts, “we are going to get back together and go down the pot highway as a team and work together again.”

Living and working with a lover 24/7 often burdens a relationship but that was not the case with them. “There wasn’t really any stress,” Don notes, “it was one blended thing. We were so busy.” (Da Kine was open 7 days a week). “We were attracted to each other,” Don says quietly. “We have lots in common and we were going down the same road. I miss her smile. I miss her energy and her cute ways of doing things?” his voice, wistful again.

“I wouldn’t say it was stressful on our relationship,” Carol agrees. “We bonded more because we both had such a level of commitment that we knew we were doing right by each other even if we were pissing each other off for whatever particular reason. We had ups and downs like anybody else. In the end it’s all good.”

Sometimes Carol had trouble keeping up with Don. “He’s just so focused.” She would probably have slept a little more or taken an afternoon off sometimes. “It exhausted me but then I’d look at him, see what he’s been through, and think ‘I haven’t been through half of that,’ so I’d have to keep going. He’s sat in a jail cell; he’s lost everything. His family was destroyed by this. He’s lost millions,” she shakes her head.

As for his role in the pot movement, Carol believes, “Don is a National treasure and my own personal hero. I miss him dearly and pray for his health.”

As reported at the time, Don had a minor heart attack when he was arrested and went to jail via the hospital. The 53-year-old was not surprised by the incident. “It’s an ongoing condition. I have a blockage in my heart from a previous heart attack. Stressful situations cause tension and the heart constricts and you get chest pains. Luckily I had my nitro spray and came out of it okay.”

When Carol heard the news she rushed up to the hospital and found two armed guards standing outside the door of his room. “They were both looking the other way,” she recalls, and not to be thwarted, slipped into Don’s room unnoticed. They had just over a minute together before they were discovered “She somehow managed to find me,” Don remembers. “I was really happily amazed. It was a moment of true joy.”That was the last time they touched each other.

For the first few months Carol took the two-and-a-half-hour transit trip from downtown to the pretrial centre in Port Coquitlam to visit Don, “because the cops had my car. I look at Don as a victim of the drug war and I have to support him through this as well. I so look forward to seeing him; it’s the highlight of my week.”

“I know he’s doing a noble thing,” she continues, “he’s not doing it for greed, it’s all for the cause.” Carol isn’t in it for the money either; she doesn’t have a cent to show for her efforts at the cafe. All the cash went back into the business and toward funding pot activism at Da Kine.

Don apologizes for sniffling: “I have a cold; there’s one going around, it’s not very healthy at all. There’s a lot of stress in here. My health is deteriorating.” He feels he isn’t getting the diet or the exercise he needs for his heart condition and what he misses most is the fresh fruit and vegetables? “And I don’t mind a good hamburger once in a while.”

The food, however, isn’t the only thing on his mind. “I miss my family. I miss?” Don hesitates, “all the other people.” He pauses again, “and I miss Carol?” She can’t decide what she misses most about her partner. She calls him “Donny. He has beautiful blue eyes. I miss his voice, just everything about him. He’s worth waiting for, that’s for sure,” Carol says dreamily, “I miss him so much. He’s definitely worth waiting for.”

“I’m disgusted about what she’s going through,” Don says. “It’s an attack on all of us, on our liberties and on our human rights. I worry about her, her standard of living and everything.” At the same time he believes Carol is capable of dealing with the situation she finds herself in. “I think she’s strong mentally and physically. I think she can handle it ? but I know it’s a tough deal for her.”

Carol believes cannabis users are not free, “when the police can come and just take peoples medicine. You have no recourse for that.” She quotes Bob Marley: “?Me don’t love fighting, but me don’t love wicked either? I guess I have a kinda war thing in me. But is better to die fighting for freedom than to be a prisoner all the days of your life?.”

She faces three trials: A preliminary hearing date of November, 2005, has been set on a charge of benefiting from the proceeds of crime. That trial will be in front of a judge and jury. She faces a judge alone for her second trial date next November, for violating a release order, and will also face a judge and jury for the third trial, after a preliminary hearing set for July, 2005, on a joint charge with her store manager, a charge of possession of cannabis for the purpose of trafficking.

Don BriereDon BriereCarol tries to not worry about the possibility she will have to go back to jail if convicted. “I do look at it realistically and I probably will have to do time unless they legalize it. I think about people like Nelson Mandela [locked up for 27 years in a battle for human rights]and it wasn’t in a Canadian prison where you’re pretty safe.”

She remembers that when the police raided Da Kine the store was full of people, “There was no fight-back,” All the customers just sat down once they realized what was going on. Carol believes that one of the biggest obstacles of the cannabis movement is the mainstream’s perception of who drug users are, “and violence doesn’t win us points. People saw what happened at Da Kine and drew their own conclusions. We can’t fight it [the drug war]with violence. I want to portray that pot’s not the monstrous drug that they make it out to be.” Don agrees, “violence is never good.”

“I’m pushing for legalization in any form I can get it right now,” Carol says, “where people don’t go to jail for any crime having to do with cannabis. They can regulate it and tax it if they want to,” but she doesn’t want people to go to jail for having a little plant in the corner of their house. she predicts “it’ll become legal when they have it all figured out how to do it pharmaceutically so they can still exclude the organic people, (the weed) and hand people pills again.”

“People are duped by this decriminalization thing,” Carol points out. The current decrim proposal targets the growers and traffickers. “One thing that we tried to teach people when they came into Da Kine is that decriminalization is not legalization – and it does not mean that you get to keep your weed and smoke it – they’re still going to take it and they’re going to fine you.”

Carol realizes some people are content with the proposed change in the law because it will mean no criminal record for those caught smoking a joint. “But it’s more than that because the growers are going to get double time for it. Sure, you’re not going to have anything happen to you when you smoke it but what about the people you buy it from. People interchange the words ‘decriminalization’ and ‘legalization’ and they’re totally different things.”

Before Sept 16 [her second arrest], Carol’s world was working at Da Kine every day. Then it changed abruptly. The inmates at the Surrey Pretrial Centre knew who she was before her arrival; they saw what happened on the news. Carol was considered non-threatening and warmly greeted by the other women, most younger than her. They called her ‘Kingpin.’

When she got out of jail a month later her apartment had disappeared: weed, money, jewelry, personal stuff – all gone. The police have her computers, her car, cell phone, and money. “Right now I’m living from the hospitality of friends,” Carols says. Does she see herself as a victim of the drug war? She smirks, “I do now.” She recently found a minimum wage job, figuring that”finding a career is going to be difficult because of my impending doom.”

“I don’t know what drives me,” the 38-year-old muses. “I just know that people shouldn’t go to jail for this; people shouldn’t be punished for taking their medicine.” Carol recognizes that some of her drive comes from Don’s commitment to the movement. “We draw from each other because we both know there’s a lot at stake. He lost his son to heroin, that’s what drives him. He’s very, very driven,” she notes.

Don elaborates: “Eleven years ago I lost a son in this drug war and it broke my heart.” His son Shane overdosed on a high quality heroin. He believes drug addiction is a social issue, not a criminal issue, and it’s not only about marijuana for him – it’s about all drugs. Don believes in the legalization of all drugs and treatment for addicts. “In England, if you’re a heroin addict, you get your heroin from your doctor ? and then what do you do?” he asks, “you go to work and are a productive member of society.”

He speaks to the hypocrisy of those in power who use cannabis behind closed doors, lacking the courage to stand up for what they know is the truth. He says this American drug war has been waged for 70 years solely for the purpose of job creation. Judges, lawyers and police officers smoke pot, he points out. Don believes these people go along with the laws to keep their employment, knowing full well that smoking cannabis is not bad. They are saying these drugs are dangerous, when they know better, he asserts.

Don has a son and three daughters and he would rather his kids smoke pot than drink alcohol. “Hospital beds are full of people on Welfare Wednesday because of alcohol, He notes. “Dangerous drugs are drugs like: Ritalin, Prozac, Alcohol, and tobacco. They are all more dangerous than pot.”

“We are honest, hardworking business people trying to earn a living,” his voice is angry. “Because we’re pot people, they kidnapped our people while they looted and destroyed our business.” He says he’s learned valuable lessons from his experience with the first Da Kine.

“I have devoted my life to getting the message to people about just how costly this drug war is to Canadians. This is a war on Canadians like Carol and myself and it’s costly, socially, for our society and for our city.”

Born in New Westminster, Don’s mother was a homemaker and his Dad worked “in the mills.” His parents were farmers from the prairies. He has two brothers and one sister.He quit high school in Grade 10 and has worked the mining, logging and newspaper industries. He has seven grandsons. “I have a green thumb and I’m a very good gardener; plants are my hobby and my love.” Don ran as a BC Marijuana Party candidate in the Surrey-Tynehead riding in the last provincial election.

After a college course in Developmental Services Carol worked in Ottawa before coming to Vancouver in early 1992.”I learned how to teach people with developmental disabilities, special needs kids, kids with autism, and brain injuries.” She has eight brothers and one sister. Her parents are still in Ontario. “They respect what I’m doing; They don’t judge me. They’re proud because I’m doing what I believe in. As far as the marijuana issue is concerned they’re not sure I’m choosing the most noble of causes,” she grins.

After smoking pot on and off through the years Carol realized the medicinal benefits of cannabis and learned about dosing. “I regulated my dose, and medicated myself instead of just smoking it socially.” She’s suffered from a condition since she was 7 years old, which throws off her equilibrium. “When I turn my head or my body a certain way I get vertigo and nauseous and I found out that pot helps with the nausea; it also helps as a muscle relaxant because I’m always tense because I’m always expecting to have to move,” she explains.

Carol is proud of what she did at Da Kine. “Looking back, I would have done a lot differently, but I would have done a lot the same too.” She thanks her staff, “from the bottom of my heart,” for believing in Da Kine as she did. “They sacrificed their freedom and their lives trying to realize the country so many Canadians envision: a country that includes cannabis.”

Don says Carol feels the pot movement is behind her. “She’s excited, working with the lawyers and the civil liberties lawyers and she was excited about Da Kine and the positive stuff we were doing there.”

He feels secure in the knowledge that, “the pot warriors are behind her,” and believes that’s important because, Don warns: “united we stand ? divided we fall.”Don Briere

Don’s blog: dbdakine.blogspot.com

“It feels great to get letters.” Don says. “It’s your only real touch from the outside.” Please write to him at: the North Fraser Pretrial Centre, 1451 Kingsway Avenue, Port Coquitlam, BC V3C 1S2. Phone: 604-468-3500. Visits: 604-468-3566.

This story is dedicated to ChronicChick. Thanks for the inspiration Allison.