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CN - Pot Bust Tactic Challenged

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QU - Police infiltrated Marijuana Party; Then-leader of party, Marc St-Maurice, arrested for possession of 3 grams.

Police busted Marc-Boris St-Maurice for pot possession last year after taking out memberships in the pro-marijuana political party he founded and infiltrating its clubhouse, Cafe Marijane.

That was a violation of his constitutional rights, said St-Maurice, who recently left the Marijuana Party of Canada and the provincial Bloc Pot to pursue pro-pot policies as a Liberal.

St-Maurice wants the evidence police gathered when they came undercover to Cafe Marijane tossed out. If it is, he said he hopes the charge against him - possession of three grams of pot - will ultimately be dropped.

"It was the most expensive pot I ever had," he joked yesterday.

Julius Grey, a noted rights expert, was in Quebec Court yesterday, arguing St-Maurice's Charter rights to free expression, freedom of expression and privacy were violated when police came calling.

"Members of political parties should not be treated the same as terrorists or subversives," Grey said. "Any individual should be able to belong to a political party in all security."

Political parties, whether mainstream or marginal, are a vehicle for democratic participation, Grey said. Free and uninhibited speech are part of that participation, he said.

"If police can infiltrate political parties and obtain memberships, that's certainly not free and uninhibited."

Grey compared the police tactics to those employed in the 1950s against communists and, later, against the predecessors of the NDP and the Parti Quebecois.

Crown prosecutor Mario Longpre argued the police tactics were perfectly legal and in line with numerous court decisions allowing evidence gathered during sting operations or covert efforts to extract confessions.

"If our society tolerates police using certain strategies to get confessions to a crime - not even material evidence - it's the interpretation of the Charter that allows it," Longpre said. "The police went to enforce the law as they can in an open place."

But Grey countered that police weren't entering a public place.

To be in Cafe Marijane, they had to purchase a Marijuana Party membership for between $5 and $50, or pay $1 a day.

Political parties should not have any immunity or protection from prosecution if they are involved in illegal acts, but police have to proceed according to the law - which means obtaining a warrant, Grey said.

In this case, if the cops had infiltrated Cafe Marijane, observed people smoking pot, then used what they'd gleaned to obtain a search or arrest warrant, the debate would be completely different, Grey said.

"If they'd gotten a warrant, we probably wouldn't be here," St-Maurice added.

Judge Andre Perreault will render a decision July 14.



Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2005 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Contact: letters@thegazette.canwest.com
Website: http://www.canada.com/montreal/montrealgazette/
 
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