Rosie Rowbotham, who was severely punished for his enterprise in soft drugs, remains a source of good humour and proportion. Shortly after finishing his 20 years of incarceration, his parole was revoked after a woman made an unfounded assault claim. Still, he manages to keep a balanced perspective. Very few people survive the experience of our prison system. Rick Sauvé is another survivor, one of a handful to actually get an education in prison.
The same authorities who hounded dealers [like me] are now investors in cannabis - and there's still no amnesty for past convictions.
Over the course of my life, I have been convicted in four separate trials, sentenced to a total of 69 years, and after many appeals served just over 20 - the first two in maximum security. I was released on parole in 1997.
Some murderers do less time than I did.
My crime? Conspiracy to import, possess and sell pot.
I brought in tons of hash and pot. I can assure you I never got involved with any harder drugs, let alone anything violent. I was strictly a pot guy: a hippy capitalist who wanted as big a piece of the North American market as he could get.
In jail, I saw myself as a prisoner of the war on drugs - one of the thousands of others who lost part of their future in the long, cruel and ultimately futile attempt to stop people from buying, selling, and smoking weed.
Neil Young testified on my behalf at my second trial. He told the court he took exception to the prevailing stereotype of deadbeat pot smokers who could never make a positive contribution to society, pointing out that he was a prodigious toker and yet he still likely paid more taxes than everyone else in the court room combined.
“The hypocrisy is staggering”
- Rosie Rowbotham
Now a new day is dawning in Canada - or so it seems. Recreational pot use is about to be legalized for up to 30 grams.
To be honest, I've never considered myself to be a marijuana activist. I wasn't a campaigner for legalization: I was making big money, and legalization would have been bad for my business.
I also don't trust or respect politicians, especially when it comes to pot. In 1969, then prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, set up a Commission to study the pot scene in Canada. After hearing thousands, the report recommended pot be legalized. Nothing happened.
Fast forward fifty years and the war on pot is over. So why am I not celebrating?
Let's start with the movement to grant amnesty to people with past cannabis convictions. I'm glad prime minister Justin Trudeau has said he plans to "move forward in a thoughtful way on fixing past wrongs that happened because of this erroneous law" but why is the government continuing to bust people for possession?
In 2016, more than 17,000 Canadians were charged with a law which will soon disappear. Offering them amnesty would be a nice gesture. The damage to their lives is done. Why charge them in the first place?
Editorial: The authorities will argue because it is still the law. This is true as is by the same law still illegal to conspire to import, possess and sell pot so why is the government not arresting those cops and politicians who are now planning to possess and sell pot and take over the marijuana industry. Conspiracy is the planning and taking steps to commit a crime. As of this writing it is a crime... for the rest of us? Or are they just eliminating potential competitors?
A simple amnesty is not enough. It should include an apology for ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for no legitimate reason.
They should be asking us to forgive them. I sentence them to have to live with themselves for the rest of their lives.
Editorial: Not going to happen and they don't give a shit about having to live with what they did.
Now, the government has turned the pot business over to the cops and politicians who were responsible for destroying so many lives by turning pot smokers into criminals. They'll be profiting from the same activities they used to prosecute. They lost the drug war. The hypocrisy is staggering.
In 2015, then a Conservative MP, Julian Fantino, former chief of the Toronto police, declared his complete opposition to legalization, likening the decriminalization of marijuana to legalizing murder.
Editorial: Now he is ready to "commit murder".
Julian Fantino (right) in now on the board of directors of a company which connects patients to medical marijuana. When asked about his change of heart on pot, Fantino replied he had embarked on a "fact-finding mission" and discovered marijuana was not the demon drug he once thought it was. Perhaps he should have done some fact-finding [when he was top cop] before he started tossing people in jail.
Editorial: Was money part of the "fact-finding mission"?
Shortly after joining the Toronto police in 1969 Julian Fantino became a member of the drug squad, one of the hundreds of cops who pursued me relentlessly throughout the 1970s. Now Fantino gets to cash in on marijuana, while people with criminal records for something that is soon to become legal languish on the sidelines - or, in many cases, still in jail. If I'm a criminal, what word would you use to describe Fantino and all the other ex-cops and politicians who are now looking to get rich by switching to the other side?
Also on the board of directors are an ex-cabinet minister of a government which proposed mandatory minimum sentences and a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP into drug and organized crime enforcement.
Former deputy Toronto police chief Kim Derry and ex-Ontario premier Ernie Eves are also members of the old law-and-order crowd rushing to the marijuana cash-cow.
A fair criminal entrepreneur in his own day, CBC Radio journalist Rosie Rowbotham gets nearly apologectic when he hears the Hells Angels described as "organised crime."
"I did time with Johnny Papalia, the Cotronis ... I know what organised crime is, and I know what disorganised crime is," says Rowbotham. "So when they say the Hells Angels are some slick, organised crime organisation, whose story is that?"
Rowbotham — whose career as a marijuana importer in Toronto's Rochdale hippie era saw him do a punitive 20 years in prison — produced Chrome And Thunder, a CHUM/City documentary on bike-culture with director Tom Mann and exec producer Jim Hanley. It debuts on VR Saturday. Said culture includes yuppies on $40,000 Harley-Davidsons, a stripper on a North Dakota bike-party pilgrimage, a female OPP officer who's a member of the Harley-riding "golden helmets," a Quebec hydro official who's a weekend biker-partyer, and a gang of amiable middle-aged Torontonians called The Silverados who fundraise for the Yonge St. Mission.
"But the real steak and sizzle comes from the 'one percenters,' " says Rowbotham, employing the longstanding nickname for "outlaw" bike gangs. Using his contacts, he got his cameras into parties and into the home lives of various Angels, Outlaws and Banditos.
The result will be a disappointment for anyone looking for a story about the seamy underbelly of bikerdom. For the most part, it's facetime with family men with dayjobs.
Mann, also a former '70s "soft-drug dealer," is Rowbotham's partner in Contraband Productions, "and the genesis came from us having relationships with bikers going back to Rochdale (the legendary Toronto hippie co-op)" Rowbotham says. "I mean, there are people who are going to call me a biker apologist. But I really am not naive. I had them bring drugs across the border for me from Washington into B.C. when they were Satan's Angels in 1970. I've had bikers put guns to my head and try to rip me off. I've defended myself and put guns to their heads. So this is not a love story here.
"But for years we've been hearing 'Hells Angels are coming to Ontario! It's gonna be war, strewn bodies, bombs and mayhem.' And that's what got me and Tom interested.
I said to Tom 'This picture's all wrong.' They were using the situation in Quebec, which was truly out of control, and painting the whole country with that brush."
Rowbotham used his prison rep to get his access. "It took a lot of posturing, a lot of politics, a lot of meetings. I came in with 304462A, my prison number, and I said you know who I am. My reputation is that when I got arrested, I never testified against nobody. I was accountable, but I'm not a body trader."
"My line was I'm with the media, your silence is condemning you. You have somebody you can talk to, let's talk. "I mean, I wouldn't say they are a group of people that should not be watched. Bikers will admit there's a lot of testosterone, and the biker ethic can be prone to violence.
“what's the real agenda?”
"But when you hear law enforcement officials call bikers the number one threat to Canadian security, when they say they're organised crime with possible terrorist links, you have to stop and ask what's the real agenda? "I'm more worried about other organisations that are slicker, smarter and more dangerous," says Rowbotham, who's working on a series on Toronto street gangs for CBC Radio in the fall.
"Home invasions and carjackings? That's gangbangers. Asian and Russian gangs have been making billions of dollars for the last 10 years and they're not even on the radar.
"The bikers are just an easier target. They've got clubhouses and a sign on their back."
KINGSTON - Robert "Rosie" Rowbotham, a national CBC radio personality who has exposed prison corruption, was released from a maximum-security institution after a spurious allegation of domestic assault led to three months' incarceration.
After hearing the decision of the National Parole Board yesterday, Rowbotham, 50, warmly embraced Valerie Phillips, the woman who made the allegations and later recanted them.
He then walked away from the razor wire-topped fences of Millhaven Institution near Kingston, Ont., a notorious prison that has handled some of Canada's hardest criminals, and returned to Toronto with Ms. Phillips on first-class train tickets.
Rowbotham, a producer for CBC national radio news, had 10 months left on his parole after nearly 20 years in prison for large-scale trafficking of marijuana when he was accused in July of domestic assault.
Although the allegations were recanted by Ms. Phillips verbally, in writing and in sworn testimony in court, the accusation triggered the revocation of Rowbotham's parole, placing him first in Metro East Detention in Toronto and later Millhaven.
Rowbotham started working at the CBC in 1997 after he was paroled. He had been an on-air guest talking about life in prison, and producers were impressed. He has since contributed to the station's coverage of crime and justice issues, including an investigative project in June about corruption at Kingston Penitentiary.
At yesterday's hearing, Rowbotham told of the July night when Ms. Phillips had been drinking and locked herself in Rowbotham's van, threatening to drive away. She had no driver's licence and was intoxicated. He grabbed a propane tank, broke the van's window, reached in and took the keys, he said.
"What I did was a responsible act. I felt sorry, but I had to do it to protect her and to protect others."
Days after the incident, Ms. Phillips complained to police of an assault but quickly admitted to making the story up, saying the accusation was made under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs. She had recently been misdiagnosed with liver cancer. The doctor prescribed hundreds of painkillers and Ms. Phillips started compulsively taking the pills, Rowbotham said.
After the allegations were made, however, a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence did not allow for withdrawing the charge. Although granted bail in August and acquitted of the charges earlier this month, Rowbotham remained behind bars.
His job as a journalist raised red flags for the Correctional Service of Canada.
Rowbotham was asked about suggestions he had connected with members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. His only connection, Rowbotham said, was his work as a reporter working on a documentary television program about the gang.
When asked why he did not tell his parole officials about threats phoned to his home because of an investigation he was working on, Rowbotham replied: "Because the piece I was investigating was on the Correctional Service of Canada and I didn't want them to tell their colleagues."
A dozen producers, reporters and on-air hosts from CBC were at the hearing, including Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition. His lawyer also presented the board with two-dozen letters of support, including notes from Alex Frame, vice-president of CBC Radio, and Shelagh Rogers, host of This Morning.
Rowbotham will resume his job at CBC, officials with the public broadcaster said.
It's been exactly a week since a CBC radio personality was acquitted of assaulting his girlfriend. But instead of returning to an editing studio, Robert "Rosie" Rowbotham appears headed for one of Canada's most notorious prisons.
Rowbotham, 50, is scheduled to be shipped to maximum-security Millhaven penitentiary near Kingston today, despite findings by a judge and crown attorney that there wasn't a shred of evidence against him.
"He's certainly not happy about it," Rowbotham's lawyer, John Hill, said yesterday after appealing to National Parole Board officials in Toronto to release his client, who was acquitted last week when his common-law spouse, Valerie Phillips, recanted her story that he had beaten her from head to toe.
Jamie Nelson: Set up for a sex assault by a liar. Less than 5 minutes to overturn his conviction. Did 3 years.
Rowbotham, who surrendered to police last August, is a federal parolee, serving the final few months of a 20-year sentence for helping to run a massive drug-smuggling conspiracy that resulted in 16 tonnes of marijuana and hashish imported into Canada.
Convicted once before of a similar offence, albeit on a much smaller scale, his trials in the 1970s and '80s provided some of the more colourful chapters in the annals of Canadian criminal law, with singer Neil Young's brother among Rowbotham's co-accused and the American writer Norman Mailer included among the witnesses.
Since being released on full parole in 1998, Rowbotham has worked primarily for CBC radio out of its national broadcasting centre in Toronto, filing news reports and producing investigative documentaries that focus on the prison system.
Charged last August with assault and uttering threats against Phillips, he was granted bail, but was held in jail because parole board officials recommended his parole be revoked on the basis of the new charges
But while he has been exonerated by a court, that is apparently not good enough for the parole board, Hill said.
Parole officials have referred his case for a "post-suspension" hearing, tentatively set for Nov. 23 at Millhaven, where board members will examine the allegations and evidence themselves and decide whether he should be released or remain in jail until his sentence expires next June.
"He's gone through a trial in which the crown has admitted there is no evidence of wrongdoing, and yet the parole board thinks they are in a better position to make a decision," Hill said in an interview. "It would sound as though they must have decided the courts can't be trusted.
"Are we are allowing lay members of the public, who constitute the parole board, to overrule decisions made by fully informed crown attorneys and judges?"
John Vandoremalen, a board spokesperson, admitted "it would seem odd" that someone acquitted is being returned to prison but, in Rowbotham's case, it's something the board is legally required to do.
If a federal parolee is arrested on new charges, parole officials have up to 30 days to exercise their discretion and decide whether parole should be suspended. They usually won't make the decision until the case is heard in court, he said.
Rowbotham's case didn't come to trial within that 30-day period, so his parole officers' discretion lapsed and the case has to automatically go to a post-suspension hearing within 90 days, Vandoremalen said.
At that hearing, he added, board members can "look beyond the offence" and evidence in court to determine whether Rowbotham would present a risk to public safety if released.
Phillips, who has a criminal record for perjury, told the court that she called 911 last July 30, after polishing off a bottle of liquor and downing tranquilizers, and claimed she'd been beaten by Rowbotham.
She made up the story, she told the court, because she was angry at Rowbotham and wanted to "pay him back" for walking out on her as a result of her refusal to confront her substance-abuse problem.