All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for March 2003

Pot crusader says OPP probe unfair

Man acquitted of driving under influence, but police still asking for licence review

Sunday, March 02, 2003
Kelly Egan
The Ottawa Citizen

Rick Reimer won a landmark acquittal in January for impaired driving while under the influence of marijuana, but his battles with the Ontario Provincial Police are raging on.

After repeatedly asking, Mr. Reimer, a retired Wilno, Ont. lawyer, was given a copy of an OPP letter this week that urges the Ministry of Transportation to review his fitness to hold a driver's licence.

Citing "public pressure," OPP Const. Brad Burton, the arresting officer, wrote that Mr. Reimer's multiple sclerosis and his continuous use of marijuana for medical relief "could significantly interfere" with his motoring abilities.

Mr. Reimer is upset with the OPP about the letter, which he only discovered after a telephone call from a reporter. When he first asked Killaloe OPP about it, they acknowledged its existence, apologized for speaking to the media about it, but declined to immediately give him a copy of the document, dated Feb. 13.

Mr. Reimer, in a written response to the OPP, says Const. Burton does not make clear to the ministry that he was acquitted of the charge and that the court rejected the evidence of impairment. "Anyone reading this is going to be left with a false impression."

Mr. Reimer, 49, has a Health Canada exemption to smoke marijuana to relieve the impact of MS, which include an unsteady gait, slightly slurred speech and occasional loss of balance.

Mr. Reimer wonders whether there is a vendetta against him, particularly given a civil suit against the OPP he filed last September, claiming damages for an incident on March 27, 2002.

On that day, Mr. Reimer was making one of his first court appearances on the impaired driving charge, which was laid after he was pulled over on Feb. 11 of that year. As he openly smoked marijuana in the parking lot of the Killaloe courthouse, Mr. Reimer said he was accosted by an OPP constable and ordered to show his Health Canada exemption.

When he declined, Mr. Reimer says he was roughly and illegally arrested in front of a taping television crew, handcuffed and kept in a holding cell for 45 minutes. The ex-lawyer says he was injured during the incident, which he considers an assault.

Mr. Reimer further claims in his statement that the constable was acting on a memo from a sergeant who told officers that Mr. Reimer did not have a valid exemption to legally smoke marijuana and should, if found smoking, be treated like a non-exempt person.

Mr. Reimer says he had a valid exemption, which he was not compelled to produce on demand.

Mr. Reimer said yesterday he is less interested in monetary damages listed in the suit than taking a stand about the importance of respecting individual rights. "Not to put too fine a point on it, but I consider that I'm sort of like the litmus paper between the police and the common folk. I see police taking way too much for granted about their powers."

The OPP have yet to file a statement of defence, but its legal branch is reviewing its response. OPP spokeswoman Sgt. Kristine Cholette said that because the matter is before the court, she could not respond to specific claims made in the suit.

Mr. Reimer, 48, said that in 20 years as a criminal lawyer, he had never heard of a police officer writing a letter asking the ministry to review the abilities of a motorist. "I'm a very good driver. I can't see it as anything but being churlish."

When contacted by the Citizen, Const. Burton referred calls to media relations Sgt. Cholette.

Sgt. Cholette would not even confirm the letter was written or sent because she said it would be inappropriate to comment on a private citizen who is not a suspect or the subject of a criminal investigation.

"If he says that this is what we've done, then there's nothing I can do to disclaim that. He's free to talk about this. We're not."

She also said, in general, if the police have a concern about an individual's driving, "we will do what we think is necessary to ensure the safety of the public."

The sergeant also said it isn't unusual for police to send a letter to the Ministry of Transportation asking for a review of a driver's licence. The ministry is not bound to accept the advice, she added.

The Ministry of Transportation has a medical review section for licensed drivers. It gets mandatory reports from physicians and eye doctors, but also receives input from police.

The review section can follow up by seeking more information about the health of drivers or direct them to a provincial assessment centre where their physical condition and driving skills would be re-examined.

On Feb. 11, 2002, Mr. Reimer was driving down a snowy county road outside Killaloe on a clear morning when he was followed for several kilometres by Const. Burton.

The officer testified that Mr. Reimer's vehicle crossed the centre line several times -- in a five-kilometre section of road.

When he pulled over the ex-lawyer, Mr. Reimer was smoking a joint, one of 10 to 12 he consumes every day.

On Jan. 8, in the absence of any evidence about the level of THC in Mr. Reimer's system, a judge ruled there was reasonable doubt as to his level of impairment.

© Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen