Church Seeks Exemption to Pot Laws

Reverend Peter Styrsky, of the Church of the Universe. (Photo by Stan Behal)Reverend Peter Styrsky, of the Church of the Universe. (Photo by Stan Behal)Canadians are as good at religious tolerance as they are at hockey, a lawyer for members of a branch of The Church of the Universe argued Tuesday.

Lawyer Paul Lewin said based on that Canadian tolerance, if marijuana is religious to some — as he feels the defence has proven — Toronto’s G-13 Mission of God should be shut out of Canada’s marijuana laws.

It isn’t clear yet if that argument has scored with the judge presiding over the charter challenge by two members of the Church of the Universe busted for drug charges back in 2006.

Lewin kicked off four days of closing submissions Tuesday by arguing the defence has proven the belief of the church members is sincere and based on a nexus with religion.

“They really do find God through cannabis,” he told court. “Canada has a long history of religious tolerance.

“It’s like hockey, we are good at it. We’re world leaders.”

Peter Styrsky, 53, and Shahrooz Kharaghani, 31, both minister-members of the Beaches Mission of God-Assembly of The Church of the Universe, on Queen St. E., were charged with trafficking marijuana after they allegedly sold pot to two undercover cops who infiltrated their church in 2006.

Lewin detailed some of the church’s good works including holding Sunday services and giving hemp clothes and food away to those in need.

“Were there some people there just to buy marijuana? Probably. But lots of them weren’t,” he said. “Either this was a very, very elaborate lie or else Brother Peter was very committed.”

Lawyers for the church — which claims weed as a holy sacrament that allows them to connect to God — are seeking an exemption to the country’s marijuana laws from Justice Thea Herman, saying their religious rights are being infringed.

It is believed to be the first time a Canadian court has been asked to define what is a religion and whether its illegal practices are protected by the Charter of Rights.

Lawyers Nick Devlin and Donna Polgar of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada will argue later in the week that the men’s actions do not fall under the charter’s provisions for protected religious conduct.

“The applicants sold marijuana to undercover police officers, had kilos more ready for sale to the public and held thousands in cash as proceeds from the trafficking they had already done,” begins the Crown’s written closing submissions.

The Crown argues the G-13 was a retail shop and the defence has failed to prove the shop’s standard operating procedure “of indiscriminate trafficking in marijuana” had any connection to religion.

“By way of analogy, taking the case at its most favourable to the Applicants, they were in the same position as a group of Catholics who seek to extend their personal religious practice of using small quantities of wine in the communion ritual into a claim that the Charter grants them the right to run a liquor store open to the general public,” the Crown writes.

Outside court in the garden of Osgoode Hall, Styrsky said he would be lighting up with his supporters during the trial’s lunch break.

But he later balked at lighting a joint saying he’d been advised not to.

“I got to listen to my lawyer,” Styrsky said, while a few feet away his supporters gathered in a circle to have a smoke.

Closing submissions are expected to continue until Friday.

– Article from Toronto Sun.