Monday, September 12, 2005

Judge shows justice isn't blind to love

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Judge shows justice isn't blind to love

Court allows couple who ran the infamous Da Kine Cafe to reunite while they await trial

Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

Carol Gwilt and Don Briere give each other a hug after a judge lifted her bail restriction.

The B.C. legal system stepped aside for Cupid Friday, lifting a months-long no-contact restriction on the couple who ran the infamous Da Kine Cafe and now face marijuana charges.

Carol Gwilt, the accused owner-operator of the defunct, marijuana-dispensing Commercial Drive cafe, left the courthouse and threw herself into the arms of convicted pot kingpin Don Briere.

"At last," she cooed, kissing him.

"Cool," said Briere.

For months, the couple, who have been lovers for about 21/2 years, were prohibited from physical contact as a result of separate bail restrictions imposed while each awaited trial on drug charges.

The 38-year-old Gwilt faces one trial in November and another trial date remains to be set in connection with her role in the east side cafe.

The 54-year-old Briere has a trial date next spring on charges of possession of marijuana.

At the time of his arrest last September, he was on parole from a four-year stretch for marijuana production, money-laundering and weapons offences.

As a result, he was returned to federal prison.

Scheduled for mandatory release in June, Briere was granted bail and freed to await trial on the latest charges.

His contact with several people, including Gwilt, was restricted at that time.

But B.C. Supreme Court Judge Selwyn Romilly, upon hearing Briere was being kept from his lover, agreed Monday to relax his bail conditions.

He said he did not want to stand in the way of true love -- a decision that paved the way for Gwilt to seek an easing of a similar restriction in her bail conditions.

Initially, it was unclear how Provincial Court Judge Herb Weitzel was leaning, especially after he quipped with a straight face: "Mr. Justice Romilly always has been a romantic."

Gwilt said afterwards she was sure he was going to turn her down.

"Four minutes before the end," she told Briere, "I thought it was 'No.' You're such a bad dude. At least they didn't mention the weapons."

When Briere was arrested in 1999 as the mastermind of a massive marijuana growing organization, police seized a submachinegun and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

But Weitzel noted the judge who originally set Gwilt's bail conditions last October allowed the couple to talk on the phone, so he figured there was no problem about them concocting a story.

Nor did Weitzel at the end of the 20-minute hearing feel there was a public-safety issue.

"In my view, it is appropriate to remove the condition from the undertaking," he said, in spite of the Crown's argument it should be maintained given Briere's record and the seriousness of the charges.

Gwilt, who had sat nervous and twitchy, broke into a grin and her shoulders, tight with tension as she awaited the decision, slumped in relief.

Still, Weitzel felt the need to warn her.

"You are both well-known public figures," he said, and police will quickly move in should either engage in any drug activity."

Briere is running for city council in Vancouver and Gwilt is planning to work on his campaign. Both are pot activists and former candidates for the B.C. Marijuana Party in the provincial election.

Outside 222 Main Street, Gwilt and Briere lustily embraced -- each grinning from ear to ear amid the ever-present din of the Downtown East side emergency sirens.

Briere said he hoped to take his love for a nice dinner.

Asked what she was looking forward to, Gwilt quipped: "Never mind."

Her lawyer Jason Gratl grinned: "A lovely result -- all of a sudden it seems like spring is in the air."