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Pot-smoking reverend’s case continues

By admin | July 29, 2009

The Bracebridge Examiner

Photo by Matthew Sitler
POT PLEA. Michel Ethier, 52, lights up after his Bracebridge
court appearance on Monday. As a reverend with the Church
of the Universe, Ethier believes marijuana is a sacred herb
and a church sacrament. Ethier’s trial date for possession of
marijuana has been set for Feb. 11, 2010 in Bracebridge.

Pot-smoking reverend’s case continues

July 29, 2009 – by Matthew Sitler

You could call him a “holy roller.”

On Monday, a Bracebridge court judge granted Sturgeon Falls resident Michel Ethier, 52, until Feb. 11, 2010 to prepare his defence against a pot possession charge he received in Muskoka in the summer of 2008.

Ethier is a reverend with the so-called Church of the Universe — an organization that believes marijuana is a religious sacrament.

But rather than deal with the charge at hand, Ethier told Justice Robert Weekes that now he also wants his case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ethier was granted the time extension after he argued he wasn’t provided enough time by federal Crown attorney Kelly Reitsma to digest information relating to his case.

With his trial now set for February, the presiding judge in the case will have to rule on whether Ethier’s Supreme Court request can be approved, and if not, render a verdict on Ethier’s current possession charge.

On Aug. 10, 2008, Ethier was stopped for erratic driving on Highway 11 near Cedar Lane in Bracebridge.

Police said they found evidence the driver had been smoking marijuana. A subsequent search of his vehicle produced one pound of the illegal substance.

Ethier was charged with possession of marijuana over 30 grams and released.

In court on Monday, Crown attorney Reitsma argued Ethier had been provided enough time to digest the relevant materials.

“He’s well aware of the issues,” she argued. “He’s well versed in the area of criminal law regarding marijuana.”

Weekes told Reitsma he found no fault with her, but said he had no choice but to grant Ethier’s request.

The judge made the decision noting that Ethier has no lawyer and is representing himself.

“You need to prepare your argument,” he told the defendant sternly.

Outside court, Ethier argued that marijuana is a holy plant.

He also said he has “an ace” that will help him defend his case next year, but he did not want to say what it is at this time.

“We consider (marijuana) to be the tree of life,” he said. “(Through its use) you get more enlightened. It’s a spiritual experience. This happens to be a plant that opens up your thought processes and makes you see through all the haze that’s out there.”

As to why he wants the Supreme Court to hear his case, Ethier explained that the Church of the Universe has been around for four decades and in this time has had numerous court dealings.

“At one point, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that freedom of religion is not a defence in the matters of trafficking our sacrament,” he said. “There are other church ministers facing cannabis-related charges throughout the province who are making an attempt to go (the Supreme Court) route as well.”

Ethier, who has been a minister with the church for a little over a decade, believes he had less than one pound of marijuana when he was arrested in Bracebridge.

“I’m seeking an order from the federal court against the Crown and its agents to stop prosecuting people for possession or cultivation because they are non offences,” he told this newspaper.

Past arrests

Ethier was arrested three times in 2008.

“This particular incident (in Bracebridge) was the second time,” he said. “The first time was in Sturgeon Falls, with 8.5 grams, and the other time was on Sept. 23 with 14 pounds of sacrament in Sturgeon Falls.”

Walter Tucker started the Church of the Universe in 1969 in southern Ontario. The organization’s website lists an address in Hamilton, Ontario.

Church members are encouraged to grow and distribute the plant.

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