Police officer, tenant clash during raid on illegal downtown pot dispensary
Several items, including cannabis and cash, confiscated from CAFE dispensary on Harbord Street
There were some tense moments and angry exchanges during a raid at an illegal pot dispensary in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, as police removed a man who claims he was a resident in the building.
Shortly before 10 a.m., Toronto police and city bylaw enforcement officers, swooped down on the CAFE location on Harbord Street near Spadina Avenue, clearing out its contents, before barring entry to the property.
"You can't kick somebody out of their house. You have no right," Jeff Brodie could be heard shouting, while pounding on a glass door, minutes after police removed him from the premises. A police officer could be heard warning him he was being aggressive and could be arrested.
The officer was caught on a CBC camera shoving Brodie.
Mark Sraga, the city's director of investigation services for municipal licensing and standards, said several items, including cannabis and cash, were seized during the crackdown.
"It's well known that CAFE has been operating from this location for a while, so we conducted our inspection today," Sraga told reporters at the scene.
"[We] confirmed that in fact they were selling cannabis products, both dry flower as well as all other forms of cannabis.
Sraga said their initial goal was to place concrete blocks in front of entrances, as previously done following similar raids, but because of the overhead power wire, the operator did not feel safe to operate the crane to place the blocks.
Following the legalization of cannabis last year, illegal dispensaries have been able to operate thanks in part to a legal loophole in the province's Cannabis Control Act.
That loophole prevented authorities from barring access to, and removing people from, suspected dispensaries that were also being used as residences.
The act has been subsequently amended by the provincial government to allow police to bar entry to all pot dispensaries, including those used as residences.
Illegal cannabis storefronts have persisted in Toronto despite raids and attempts to bar the stores' entryways using other means, including steel doors.
Tuesday's raid and shutdown was the first at the Harbord Street CAFE location. Two of CAFE's other dispensaries have been raided in the past. In all, it's happened four times.
Sraga estimates the CAFE storefronts bring in as much as $50,000 a day. He expects that the operators will return and reopen the store.
"They've done that in other locations before — their Bloor Street location as well as their Fort York location," he explained.
"We expect it will and we will come back and we will do what we've always done. We will carry out our enforcement actions and we will lay more charges.
"There's a criminal element behind this. When you look at the amount of revenue this operation is making, this just can't be allowed to continue on in the city," Sraga added.
Brodie is being represented by lawyer Selwyn Pieters, who says his client lives in the building and was forcefully removed from his place of abode by Toronto police.
"We feel it's unprecedented and unnecessary and violates his rights. I'm concerned about my tenant and where he lives," Pieters told reporters at the scene.
"His home is a separate entity from the marijuana dispensary. I would like that place to be reopened promptly so that my client can get back into his residence where he resides."
Pieters said he would file an application within 24 hours to challenge the constitutionality of the Cannabis Control Act, particularly the recent amendments.
Area resident Susan Purvis said the CAFE dispensary has been a source of great distress, with huge traffic jams in the neigbourhood.
"One of my neighbours was pushed down. He has two canes and he was pushed down by one of their customers the other day ... because they don't give a s**t. It's not their neighbourhood. It's destroying our neighbourhood," Purvis said.
With files from Lorenda Reddekopp