Thursday, October 06, 2005

Jailed candidate woos captive crowd

Friday, May 06, 2005

Jailed candidate woos captive crowd

Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

Don Briere, the impish 54-year-old behind the Da Kine Cafe, Commercial Drive's infamous pot den, is giggling with excitement at making history -- the first federal inmate to run for a seat in a B.C. election.

From time to time, politicians end up behind bars -- they rarely begin their careers there.

Incarcerated in the Pacific Institution/Matsqui Complex in Abbotsford as one of B.C.'s biggest marijuana dealers and awaiting trial on pot possession charges over his role last summer at Da Kine, Briere this week launched his bid as the Marijuana Party candidate in Surrey-Tynehead hoping to unseat Liberal incumbent Dave Hayer.

"The guys in here love it," he said gleefully, blue eyes asparkle, his hair dyed the colour of wheat.

"This is the first time it's happened. I've been campaigning in here and a lot of guys are going to be voting for me. This is a democracy, we do have free speech and the staff here have been great."

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.

The high court said such a measure could not reasonably be justified in a free and democratic society, so the B.C. Elections Act was subsequently amended so inmates can vote this time around.

Since then, a paranoid schizophrenic man incarcerated in an Ontario hospital for the criminally insane ran in that province's 2003 election and in Nova Scotia another Marijuana party candidate serving jail time for pot offences ran unsuccessfully for a provincial seat there in 2003.

His incarceration, Briere concedes, puts a bit of a crimp in his campaign, but it hasn't doused his enthusiasm.

"'Vote Me In To Get Me Out -- that should be my slogan,' " he quipped. "That and 'Tax the Weed.'"

Briere, who was marking his 236th day in the hoosegow Thursday, said he felt forced into politics to change what he considers an unjust law.

"I'm a victim of the war on marijuana and Ottawa's failed criminal prohibition. We should be taxing marijuana. We are wasting scarce law enforcement resources locking up gardeners while leaving billions on the table in uncollected tax revenue. It makes no sense."

Briere ran in the last provincial campaign and got about two per cent of the vote in the same riding -- coming fifth out of seven on the eve of going to jail to begin serving a four-year sentence for trafficking, weapons offences and money laundering.

Out on parole last year, he and his partner Carol Gwilt opened Da Kine Cafe for marijuana consumers. After being open for several months, the popular pot shop was raided by police. Gwilt, who is free on bail while awaiting trial on charges as a result of her involvement, is also running as a Marijuana party candidate in Maple Ridge-Mission.

Briere said Gwilt and other friends are running his campaign outside of prison putting up signs, phoning voters and attending candidates meetings when possible. And Marijuana party leader Marc Emery was especially high about his candidacy.

"This man should be out in the community educating people about the benefits of a non-criminal, regulatory approach to marijuana, not rotting in a jail cell on the taxpayer's dime," he said.

Briere insisted he isn't a one-issue candidate.

"Tuition fees are too high and they've closed too many schools," he said launching into a riff about education policy.

And don't get him started on BC Ferries, BC Rail, the economy, or health care -- "Why are we laying off health care workers and hiring more cops?" he says before delivering another set-piece speech.

Still, there's little chance he'll be elected May 17 -- but he's hoping he might get parole again. His hearing is set for the morning after polls close.