Wegadesk Gorup-Paul spent years as an olympic level athlete doing 10-metre platform diving, a passion that saw him compete at the World Junior Championships, the Commonwealth Games and Canada’s Summer Senior National Championships where he took gold in June, 2005.
While presenting him with the Roland Michener Award for his leadership skills and sport excellence in 2005, Tourism, Sport and the Arts Minister Olga Ilich called Gorup-Paul “a role model who works in his spare time to encourage Aboriginal youth to reach for academic excellence.”
But, while Gorup-Paul was traveling across the world representing Canada, he was dealing with issues that eventually caused him to leave the sport he loved, falling short of his dream of competing in the 2008 Olympics.
“My coach had been sexually abusing me as a young kid,” Gorup-Paul said. “That actually went on for quite a few years.”
“With being sexually abused by this guy, I went from being an awesome happy positive individual to helpless.”
As he grew older, Gorup-Paul said he grew self-destructive.
“Because I was a national athlete I was drug-tested, so I wasn’t able to abuse myself with drugs,” Gorup-Paul said. “But I did so with alcohol and gambling. I imagine a lot of people in our community have the same story.”
Gorup-Paul said he was drunk every day and selling hard drugs, but, after a friend introduced him to cannabis when his athletic career ended, he was able to start on the path to recovery.
“I wasn’t ready to be sober, but cannabis allowed me a stepping stone to sobriety,” Gorup-Paul said.
Afterwards, he said he cut all substances out of his life completely and began to work as an artist.
“I had not touched any drugs until I saw that these medicinal cannabis dispensaries were popping up all over the place. I said to myself, ‘If these people are helping people get good clean cannabis to help themselves the same way that it helped me.’ Within my mind’s eye, I saw potential for a job there.”
Meeting with old friends that had their MMAR production licences, Gorup-Paul began helping to bring medication to patients across Vancouver Island about four months ago.
Saying that the government has acknowledged that cannabis is a needed medicine in the community, Gorup-Paul said he couldn’t sit back and see people denied assistance.
“If there’s healing to be done, there’s no time to waste,” Gorup-Paul said. “As an alcoholic, you shouldn’t wait a week to stop drinking. You have to make changes immediately. I used that same part of my philosophy when questioning if I should wait for regulations to fully come out to govern this industry.”
“That’s how I came to be busted with 20 lbs in my trunk,” Gorup-Paul said.
Tuesday morning, a few minutes past 8 a.m., Gorup-Paul was arrested near the Swartz Bay ferry terminal after an officer pulled him over for speeding.
Const. Drew Hildred said he caught an early-1990s Lexus doing 87 km/h in a 50 zone. When he went to give the driver a $196 ticket, the constable said he smelled cannabis coming from the car.
“He admitted to smoking marijuana in the vehicle earlier. However, the smell that I smelled was more than what he admitted to,” Hildred said. “I’ve stopped people for unrelated matters with drugs on them, but never something of this magnitude.”
At a press event on Thursday, police displayed all they had seized from the vehicle — around 20 lbs of cannabis that authorities estimated as worth up to $100,000, 65 g of shatter, estimated at $6,000, and 28 g of hash. They also seized $3,500 in cash.
“The first officer had me step out and wait by his car while another officer stood present with me,” Gorup-Paul said. “I tried to make small talk with that officer and right away he shut me down and said, ‘If you’re a drug dealer, we’re not on the same side and I don’t want to talk with you.’
“I told him about myself and my healing journey with cannabis and then we were talking like we were good pals.”
While he was arrested and brought back to the police station at 9 a.m., Gorup-Paul said a police officer was complaining to his colleagues about having to go arrest a man who was drunk and disorderly at a liquor store, trying to buy more alcohol.
“At that point I said, ‘Officers, if that guy had cannabis to smoke at night the chances that you’re dealing with him 12 hours later are slim-to-none.’ Gorup-Paul recalled. “All three of them looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, we know – but were just doing our job.’”
Gorup-Paul said having police deal with cannabis issues is absurd and an inappropriate use of resources.
“Why not take the people in the cannabis industry that are trying to do something good off the radar for these cops?” Gorup-Paul said. “Here I am, doing something that I believe is right, and the legislation is 75 per cent there. I honestly believed that if something like this did happen that I would be able to express my opinion openly and honestly and the community would recognize that there’s no criminal activity going on, that it’s just the circumstances of a government that is behind in creating legislation for an industry.”
“The fact that the government make somebody like me, who’s going above and beyond what’s even accepted, legally, to help my community, suffer these huge consequences is something that for me screams out inadequacy of the conduct of the government.”
After being taken to the police station, Gorup-Paul said he was free to go within half-an-hour, required to reappear on Mar. 9 where he faces trafficking charges. Now the Saanich resident is deciding what to do next with his life.
“The product that I’m out was quite significant, and while it was not mine, it was in my possession,” Gorup-Paul said. “The people that own the product expect the money back from me and, although they have their licences, are unwilling to go forward because technically what they’re doing is against their regulations.”
“I’m hoping that the product will be returned, the police are only supposed to confiscate criminal contraband, stuff that’s been involved with criminal activity. As far as I know the people I’m working with all have their licenses and the people I’m bringing it to are distributing it in a regulated way.”
Gorup-Paul said he believes that negative experiences only come to people when they aren’t doing the right thing. Following his own mantra, he thinks this will be the last he works in the cannabis industry in this capacity.
“I can’t have any product on me, I can’t afford to get pulled over and lose any more, I already have a huge tag that I have to pay off,” Gorup-Paul said. “I’m a big believer that everything we experience is for the better and this is just another opportunity for the legislation to come forward.”
“I feel as though perhaps I’m in this position because the government needs a catalyst to move forward with these regulations,” Gorup-Paul said. “I just hope that i don’t end up as too much of a martyr for this cause.”