The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
October 9, 1998

Tucker-ed Out

Cambridge taxpayers give Long a golden handshake
and Tucker the boot

by Curtis Gloade

Fatima Pereira Henson, the Cambridge woman who went swimming topless in a public pool, once said in an interview that "This is Cambridge. It's the Twilight Zone." Perhaps she is right -- just ask the Reverends Michael Baldasaro and Walter Tucker of the Church of the Universe.

Baldasaro and Tucker routinely fall under fire from the media, their neighbours and city politicians because of their eccentric lifestyles. Local media outlets demonize the pair with disparaging terms in attempts to reduce them to a laughing stock, as persons who should not be taken seriously.

Their church must ever be deemed "self-proclaimed", and their practices of "championing pot as a religious sacrament" must be singled out again and again.

Neighbors of the church -- basically an abandoned foundry -- can only imagine what transgressions take place behind the tiny yellowed windows of the factory because such a large place does not allow for anyone to really see or hear what goes on inside. Out of sight, out of mind apparently is not a truism in Cambridge, where out of sight means light your torches and scare the monsters away.

Politicians fear the unknown so much that they are willing to spend almost $1 million of Cambridge taxpayers' money to evict Baldasaro and Tucker from the foundry. The landowner, Cambridge businessman John Long, who bought the property for $1 and allowed the church to move in, was offered $58,000 and forgiven the $900,000 he owes in back taxes and hydro. Cambridge City Council approved the transaction on the condition that the church be sent packing.

The reasons Cambridge is spending so much time, energy, and money to evict the duo are not because the reverends make too much noise, nor do the righteous politicians and neighbours fear for Tucker and Baldasaro's safety on the polluted site (did the neighbors cry bloody murder while the foundry was actually polluting the area?) The real reasons are that they dress funny and smoke marijuana.

Council further contends that while it appears as though Long would likely default on the taxes anyway, then why not use it as leverage to force out the tenants? Whether council considered that such action is legal only if the purchaser intends to move onto the property remains to be seen.

Regardless of the legality, Tucker and Baldasaro will likely be forced out of home -- again -- and will find somewhere else to live.

Hysteria surrounds them

Such hysteria surrounding the Church of the Universe should not be too surprising in Cambridge -- or anywhere else in North America for that matter. The stigmas against Tucker and Baldasaro stem not necessarily from their unusual dress and choice of homes, but almost exclusively on their open use of marijuana.

Marijuana prohibition -- like alcohol in the 30's and topless women before the '90s -- is largely based on perceived moral grounds rather than on factual evidence. Erika Kubassek, Cambridge's outspoken morality squad commander, said during an interview that people who advocate such things as marijuana for medicinal purposes "want to have free killing, free drugs, free sex, free everything, and then you have 'total hell on Earth' (the emphasis hers)."

Tucker and Baldasaro claim not to use marijuana as medicine, but rather as a sacrament in their church. They created their own moral ground as a means of holding back the hounds (if temporarily) because only very specific medicinal uses of marijuana are presently legal. While outspoken moral leaders may object, the very rules which allow people such as Kubassek to practice her religion should in theory also protect other religions.

Of course, almost everything has a political element and marijuana is no exception. Tucker and Baldasaro could fight a charge of marijuana possession all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (and they just might win), but they likely cannot fight an eviction notice imposed by the backdoor politics of overzealous city councilors.

Michael Poole, author of Romancing Mary Jane, contends that a "lack of scientific evidence about marijuana's dangers has done little to dampen the hysteria created by years of drug war propaganda". People who may object to medicinal or religious uses, indeed, fall into this category of the propagandized, the hysterical, and the uninformed. Greatly misunderstood people like Tucker and Baldasaro, in turn, suffer the consequences of the vocal minority.

Copyright © 1998 by The Kitchener-Waterloo Record. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.