Monday, September 12, 2005

Judge sets aside bail conditions for the sake of love

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Judge sets aside bail conditions for the sake of love

Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

B.C. Supreme Court Judge Selwyn Romilly said Monday he wouldn't stand in the way of true love or the electoral process and relaxed bail conditions on Don Briere, convicted drug kingpin, accused marijuana supplier of the infamous Da Kine Cafe, and pot politician.

Flashing a thumbs up from the prisoner's dock to a handful of supporters, Briere was ecstatic at the ruling that will allow him to run for Vancouver city council in November and paves the way for him to see his lover Carol Gwilt, who also faces drug and money-laundering charges for her role at the Commercial Drive cafe.

"I can't believe it," he said. "It's great, really great."

As conditions of his release on bail earlier this year while awaiting trial, Briere was banned from the City of Vancouver except to see his lawyer or attend court. He was also restricted from seeing several people, including Gwilt.

They have been separated since their separate arrests last fall.

Romilly initially imposed the conditions on Briere June 6 when he was granted mandatory release from federal prison, where he was serving a four-year stretch for marijuana production, money-laundering and weapons offences.

He was described at the time by the RCMP as one of the biggest drug lords in Western Canada, managing a network of growing operations that spanned the province, earning millions of dollars that were washed through a Burns Lake financial office.

Briere got involved in Da Kine shortly after being released on parole for those offences, and was returned to jail on his arrest in September.

However, he is also a marijuana activist and politician who has run in two elections -- the last as the first provincial candidate to run from inside a federal penitentiary.

His lawyer Richard Levenson told Romilly that Briere wanted the geographic restriction in his bail conditions relaxed so he could run for council and he outlined the seriousness with which Briere had conducted his previous campaigns.

"I thought you couldn't run for office with a prior conviction -- shows you I'm just right out of the loop," Romilly quipped.

In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that stripped the right to vote from inmates sentenced for serious offences, and there now is no law precluding prisoners from running in an election provided they meet the normal nomination criteria.

"A noble purpose," Romilly said, dismissing the Crown's objections, "a very noble purpose indeed. While I'm tempted to maintain my original terms, because of the purpose for which he wishes to have this term of release deleted, I'm satisfied the deletion should take place. I'm going to amend my original order."

With an initial victory in hand, Levenson then asked Romilly if he might stretch his luck and also have removed the restriction on contact with Gwilt.

"This is his lover," the judge asked surprised.

"Yes," Levenson said.

"And still his lover?" Romilly prodded.

"That would violate your conditions," Levenson replied lightly.

Romilly had imposed his original order expecting Briere already to have been tried and the bail conditions by this point moot.

But his trial now is slated to begin next spring.

"[Maintaining the condition] would mean he has to be without his lady love until next year?" Romilly asked.

Levenson nodded.

"I think the term should be removed," the judge said.

Briere beamed.

He left court to organize his campaign, but he still couldn't call his sweetie.

Gwilt was as happy as Briere when I called her.

"Oh, God," she repeated several times. "Oh, God, that's just great. You've got to excuse me, Ian, I've got to go dance."

Before the couple can embrace, provincial court Judge William Kitchen must agree to repeal the reciprocal restriction of contact he imposed on Gwilt.