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Legal gadfly brought theatre to Hamilton’s courts

|Written By Paul Legall

HAMILTON, Ont. — Walter Tucker was probably grinning from the heavens as a small party of friends gathered at the Fletcher Creek park last month to share some cannabis “sacrament” and spread his ashes over the verdant countryside.

Michael Baldasaro, left, and Walter Tucker drew lots of attention for their unorthodox tactics in Hamilton’s courts. Photo: Killer Image

The 79-year-old legal gadfly and pot-smoking preacher had finally returned to the lush pastoral retreat he called Clearwater Abbey where he founded the Church of the Universe in 1969.

He and his disciples had enjoyed an idyllic romp on the site for several years — soaking up the sun, growing and smoking pot, and cavorting in the nude — until their eviction in 1986 over a lease dispute.

Tucker and his fellow travellers believed the property had been stolen from them and spent several years in court in an unsuccessful bid to get it back.

It was one of many court battles he had fought over the last 30 years.

The self-taught advocate, who died of heart failure in Hamilton earlier this spring, considered marijuana the “tree of life” and believed he had the constitutional right to smoke it as a sacrament in church.

With his impish grin, floppy hat, and casual attire spun from hemp, he had cut a colourful figure as he mingled among members of the Hamilton legal community.

Since the mid-1980s, he had often teamed up in court with Michael Baldasaro, a former bulldozer operator who wrote most of their legal briefs.

Following their eviction from Clearwater Abbey, they walked into a Guelph, Ont., courtroom wrapped only in orange prison blankets. They were dramatizing the fact they’d been dragged naked from their spiritual home.

The pair referred to themselves as “advocati ecclesiae” rather than something on the lines of lawyers or paralegals. The Latin phrase refers to laypersons of noble birth who defended the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages.

Tucker and Baldasaro usually started legal proceedings by politely asking the judge to address them as reverend or reverend brother. A few jurists eventually agreed to accord them the honorific.

But most judges refused, including former justice Joseph Scime.

During an exchange with Scime over the issue, Tucker suggested they could resolve their differences by sharing a joint.

“If we could just kick back and smoke a doob, I know we could get beyond this,” he told the stern-faced jurist.

Although he dropped out of high school, lawyering appeared to be in Tucker’s DNA.

His father, Adam Austen Tucker, had been lawyer and a Queen’s Bench judge in Saskatchewan.

Three of his siblings became lawyers, including a brother who was a drug prosecutor.

Describing his youth as “unmanageable,” Tucker once told a reporter he had spent time in the penitentiary for robbing a card game at gunpoint.

After a stint in the army, he moved to Hamilton where he worked as an electrician and salesman and started raising a family. But he gave up the nine-to-five life for good after founding Clearwater Abbey.

As part of the Church, he established the University of the Universe that offered legal training as well as Bible studies for its members.

Over the years, Tucker was repeatedly in court facing marijuana-related charges and other offences stemming from the Clearwater Abbey eviction.

The new millennium started off badly for Tucker, partly as a result of a prank he and Baldasaro tried to play on then-minister of health Allan Rock, who had approved a study of medicinal marijuana.

Authorities charged them with trafficking after mailing Rock small samples of homegrown weed for the study. The federal drug prosecutor quietly withdrew the charges in 2005.

The pair wasn’t so lucky three years later, though, when the court convicted them of selling $70 worth of pot to an undercover cop who pretended she wanted to join the church.

Superior Court Justice John Carvazan suggested they were common drug dealers, rather than spiritual crusaders, when he sentenced Baldasaro to a two-year jail term and Tucker, then 75, to one year in the reformatory.

An appeal court determined the sentences were too harsh and reduced the terms to five months for Baldasaro and three for Tucker.

Former Hamilton Spectator reporter Barbara Brown, who covered the Hamilton courts for a quarter century, told Law Times she considers Tucker a “pioneer in the fight to legalize marijuana in Canada.”

“A part of me always believed that marijuana as a sacrament was a cynical ploy under the guise of religious freedom to get around the draconian marijuana laws,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“But even after exhausting every avenue of appeal, the irreverent reverends continued to walk the walk and talk the talk, never straying from the core beliefs of the church,” she added.

But their passion and oratorical skills didn’t always go over well in court, she suggested.

“From my front-row perspective, the response from the Hamilton bench to the legal antics of Tucker and Baldasaro ran the gamut from amused tolerance to disdain and annoyance that this merry band of hippies tied up so much court time defending an unrealistic position,” she said.

  • Wayne Street
    I remember Brother Walter well from my days in Guelph and the Hamilton area.I am as convinced as he was about the spiritually enhancing effects of cannabis. I believe cannabis is part of our natural lives, we are all born with cannabinoid receptors in our brains designed by God. Gods will is easier to know as they are filled...the evidence is people become more peaceful and loving and inclined to break bread together, etc, than fight, all Godly qualities regardless of what sect or faith profess...Jesus was about loving one another, not arresting them and ruining their lives for beliefs and practices that do no harm to others. I believe that at the Burning Bush where God imparted His Divine Will to Moses, Moses INHALED!! people are free to believe the origins of Judeo-Christian law occurred while Moses held his breath-this is Canada and freedom of religion, thought belief and opinion are guaranteed, protected by The Constitution Act, however unrealistic they may seem to the rest of us!
  • Dean Hughes
    Walter was a true pioneer and trooper and will always be remembered.I had heard of his antics as a child when we first emigrated to Canada.Now as an adult I realize those antics were a true lifestyle.
    "If you dont stand for something,you will fall for for anything"

    RIP Walt
  • charlie
    the cannabis movement lost a true crusader & a true hero.. there r & will be many others to follow in his footsteps . RIP .................
  • Brother Michel
    Amen to that Brother Charlie.
    God bless us all@
  • Michael Baldasro
    Reverneds Tucker & Baldasaro vs. Cadillac Fairview
    C.A.O. DOCKET C42950 DATE:20050712

    Reasons for Judgment

    Conclusion

    [29] In the result, the appeal is allowed, the judgment below is set aside and a new trial is ordered.

    [30] As the appellants were successful on this appeal they are entitled to their costs of the appeal before this court and before the Divisional Court. We fix those costs in the total amount of $3000 – inclusive of GST and disbursements – for each appellant. The costs awarded on the first trial are set aside and left to the judge hearing the second trial.

    RELEASED: (“M.J.M.”) July 12, 2005
    “K. Weiler J.A.”

    “M. Moldaver J.A.”
  • Michael Baldasaro
    Thank Law Times for remembering Reverend Tucker. The Reasons of the Court of Appeal speak for our integrity.
    Reverends Tucker & Baldasaro vs. Cadillac Fairview
    C.A.O. DOCKET C42950 DATE:20050712
    http://www.iamm.com/legal/Reasons-COA-C42950.htm
    Hon. Justices WEILER, MOLDAVER and LANG JJ.A.
    FOOT NOTE: Because we could not get the Court to put us on the Trial List when it first came up, being put over to the next sittings left us in the awkward position of being prosecuted for Marijuana Trafficking and in jail when our case came up on the next Civil Trial List, as the court must have known, and we were forced into settling for an undisclosed amount, out-of-court, and/or lose via failure to appear and bear the costs referred to in the aforesaid judgment. And as for the issue of Sacramental Marijuana - The fat lady hasn't sung just yet. Jesus and Socrates were also called heretics pre Magna Carta (1215) and the Charter.
    IN PEACE, BLESS US ALL.
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