Resident challenging smoke-free laws unable to attend court

CANSO: All Richard West wants to do is represent himself in court like he’s done countless times in the past – but he can’t, as he says his human and charter rights have been stripped from him.

Originally from Ontario, West, who has been living with a life-long disability, spends his summers in Canso, then he ran into some criminal charges in Cape Breton over his medication and cigarettes that were non-taxed.

“I ended up with a criminal charge for possession of cannabis for the purpose of trafficking because I had a couple pounds of cannabis with me,” he told The Reporter in a phone interview Monday. “The new laws when they changed it only allow you to carry 150 grams of cannabis, which is a two-day supply for me. I’m prescribed 70 grams per day.”

West – who is a 56-year-old father, grandfather, and an ordained minister – has vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a group of genetic connective tissue disorders, that affects one in 5,000 people globally. Complications may include aortic dissection, joint dislocations, scoliosis, chronic pain, or early osteoarthritis. Despite having the most severe form of EDS, and having a life expectancy of only 48 years, West has found – through trial-and-error – a health regime that works for him and has added years to his life; medicinal cannabis.

“I’m still alive, but I shouldn’t be,” he said. “I’m self-represented in the courts, or I try to be whenever I can, so what happened was they wouldn’t let me in the court with my vaporizer. I refuse to go without my health treatment that I’ve been accustomed to, and I’ve worked with several doctors to get this way. They won’t let me use my doctor-prescribed medication in the court room, so that denied me my right to be self-represented in the courts.”

On top of needing adequate access to hospitals, which West said is a completely different story right now, it’s about getting him access to the court room to challenge the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

“I have a letter here right from the Supreme Court of Canada that says I’m allowed to vape while I’m in the Supreme Court during hearings with an open gallery – I’ve done it before,” he said. “The standing deal I have at the Supreme Court in Ottawa is they would appreciate it if I gave them a couple days notice when I’m going to come, but it’s not necessary. That form was handed down to me by the now retired Chief Justice of Canada, Beverly McLachlin.”

West questions if it’s good enough for the Supreme Court, why isn’t it good enough for the courts in Cape Breton. He is not allowed within 15-feet of the courthouse building due to the province’s Smoke Free Places Act.

Since being first prescribed medical cannabis by his doctor decades before recreational cannabis became legal, West has become accustomed to having a couple of puffs every 15-minutes, if he’s not doing anything, but if he’s up moving around, he’s puffing on his vaporizer pretty steady.

“I get pain that affects your blood pressure, I get pain that will make you think about killing yourself, I get severe pain,” he said. “I get frequent dislocations because of the disease I have, my bowels bleed, my lungs bleed, sometimes I even have trouble talking, every day is different.”

West said he’s now getting steroid injections every few months and he believes he only has a few years left to live. In the meantime, he would like to get into the courthouse, represent himself and get the criminal charges dealt with. Hiring Michelle Morgan-Coole – with MMC Legal Services, Nova Scotia’s first and only disability-focused law firm – West is looking to take on the CDSA while his health still allows him to.

“I should receive my human rights first, then my charter rights and then we worry about the by-laws – but that’s not the case, they insist on enforcing by-laws or trying to enforce a by-law over my rights as a human being and my rights under the charter,” West said. “I’m not about to let that happen – not as long as I have a breath in me. They’re not going to take those rights from me, not while I’m alive. Before my charter rights even, respect my human rights and allow me to do what my doctors prescribed me to do, in the way I’ve been accustomed to doing it for decades. That’s all I’m asking for.”

These matters have been before the courts for nearly two-years and they still can’t get West through the front door.

“What would happen if I agreed with them and said ‘you’re right, I cannot come into the court, to self-represent myself, a limitation you’re imposing,’ does that now impact my due-process? And I could have ended all of this in 20-minutes, a 20-minute court appearance this would have been all over, one appearance could have done it.”

West added the justice system has tried to take his rights away from him, has plagued him with what he calls nuisance charges, and he has been continuously persecuted over his medicine – all reasons why he’s not giving up.

“My eldest granddaughter is going to have a similar infliction to me, now I don’t want what was done to me over the years, done to my grandchild,” he said. “I’m pretty much bulletproof at this point, but I’m not going to allow my grandbaby to be thrown out of hospitals in a time of need, like I’ve been. I’m fighting until the bitter end.”