Police didn't have warrant, or consent of cerebral palsy sufferer to search home
Ottawa Police shot a man Wednesday during a drug bust, which is never the way it should go down.
Tuesday wasn't a whole lot better. This was the day they busted a man in a wheelchair who can't even talk or raise a hand in protest.
Berny Belair, 43, has cerebral palsy, which has left him in a motorized wheelchair, hands all contorted, unable to even feed himself.
He communicates with an aluminum wand attached to a halo around his head, which he uses to point at letters on a keyboard attached to his wheelchair.
It is painstakingly slow. Even a short sentence can take an entire minute.
Still, in an e-mail that arrived Friday, he did his best to recount Tuesday's events, which began just before lunch and ended about five hours later.
"Within 10 minutes there was 11 cops in my house and locked me out," he wrote, grammar be damned. "When I'm locked out the cops opened everything."
You may know Belair. He is something of a fixture downtown, particularly in the months leading up to Christmas.
Since 1994, often on deadly cold days, he parks out in a highrise hollow on Bank Street near the corner of Albert Street, the self-described "card guy."
He sells greeting cards that he fashions on his home computer. On a good day, he might bring in $30.
In the last few months, Belair discovered his health improves with the use of marijuana. It helps with his appetite and digestion, and it also eases his sleep.
Even at that, he is so disabled he can neither hold the joint, light it nor inhale normally, depending on a buddy to help him.
He says he applied, with the help of his physician, for a permit to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes.
The permit, he says, is on the way. While he waited, a neighbour built a small grow area in his basement. A pair of high-wattage lights and a timer were installed and, soon, 25 plants were underway.
On Tuesday, Belair said a police officer arrived at his door, in a housing co-op in the southeast end, and wanted to know if he was OK. He indicated he was fine, he said.
Not long after, says Belair, a number of officers arrived -- some in uniform, some not -- and demanded entry into the house in the Hunt Club-Hawthorne area. He puts the number at somewhere between seven and 11.
"They demanded I open the door," he wrote. "Once they were in, I denied them entry to my basement. I was in front of the basement door and the police got very aggressive and ordered me to move away from the door and the police man just walked right down stairs."
Belair is upset that, over the next several hours, the police not only took the plants, but arranged to have the lights and timer removed. He says he's out more than $1,000 in equipment.
Neighbour Brian Williams, 36, makes no attempt to hide his role in the matter.
A neighbour for about 10 years, he visits Belair every day, feeding him as many as five times a week. Berny, he says, is like family.
Williams says he built the closet-sized grow area because he knew Belair couldn't manage it on his own. He also watered the plants because his friend in the electric chair cannot get down stairs.
Belair says he did not consent to the search and says the officers did not have a warrant.
"It's my right as an independent disabled person to grow and use marijuana to make my life a little easier."
The police have a different version. They do admit no search warrant was obtained, but it's not clear to what degree Belair consented to the search.
They suggested 25 plants is far in excess of what Belair would need for his medical purposes, even if he had a valid permit. Nor can they turn a blind eye to the operation, police say, simply because a permit may be on the way.
A spokesman said discretion was used in the matter, leading to a decision to not lay criminal charges.
At this point, Belair would like his equipment back so he can re-establish a small grow-operation when he actually gets his permit.
In an interview in his unit, he was asked what he'd like the police to do now.
"Cops stop treating me like a moron," he tapped out.
Indeed. Belair is disabled, which is not to be confused with stupid. Would he willingly agree to have police search a room he knew contained illegal plants?
By Kelly Egan
The Ottawa Citizen
June 8, 2009