Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jun 2016
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Teviah Moro
Page: A1


'True champion of Hamilton': mayor

Hamilton's own prince of pot and effervescent candidate for political
office is being remembered as a kind and colourful soul dedicated to
making his city a better place.

Michael Baldasaro, a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization,
died Thursday morning in hospice after a short battle with cancer. He
was 67.

Baldasaro, a minister in the Hamilton-based Church of the Universe,
made it his mission to help the downtrodden and disadvantaged, said
congregant Rev. Juliet Boyd.

"He bothered with the people nobody else bothered with," Boyd

Boyd said Baldasaro had been coping with an enlarged prostate since
last year but then became sick with cancer.

"I'm glad he finally passed. He was suffering too much."

News of his death sparked tributes from those who rubbed shoulders
with him during his many campaigns for office - municipally,
provincially and federally.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he was "saddened" to hear about
Baldasaro's death, calling him a "true champion of Hamilton."

"His commitment to the city and his Church of Universe community was
unwavering, but more importantly (he was) a genuinely nice man. I will
miss his passion and good humour," Eisenberger said.

Terry Cooke, CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation and former chair
of the defunct Region of Hamilton-Wentworth, called Baldasaro a
"fascinating political character" and "kind, thoughtful man." But
Baldasaro - who wore a long, bushy beard and knit cap - was an outlier
candidate, an unconventional voice when it came to competing in
mainstream politics.

His many stabs at political office began in 1984, when he ran
federally for the Libertarian Party, and lasted until last year, when
he sought a seat in Parliament under the Marijuana Party banner.

He also made a bid to run for the federal Tories in 1998, touting a
21point plan that included offering pardons to those convicted on pot

Born on Manitoulin Island in 1949, Baldasaro came to Hamilton as a
baby and attended Delta Secondary. His father, Wallace, operated a
major construction company.

Baldasaro worked in construction but didn't follow in his dad's
footsteps, instead blazing a trail for marijuana legalization, his
church's holy sacrament.

"I've had my ass kicked by my dad. I have a great old man, he's 89,
and I've got family values," he said during a 2003 interview.

Baldasaro and Walter Tucker, who founded the Church of the Universe in
the 1960s, represented themselves in numerous court battles over pot,
sometimes only dressed in red blankets secured with safety pins. The
pair took on other battles, as well, once mounting a legal challenge
against the sale of the Ticats in the late 1980s.

The churchgoers found their spiritual home at Clearwater Abbey, a
quarry on the 11th Concession west of Highway 6, where they swam nude
and smoked pot until the conservation authority turned the area into a
wetland to deter trespassers. Dynamited out of their Puslinch
sanctuary, the congregants found a new home on Barton Street East in

In 2007, Baldasaro, who had a litany of trafficking-related
convictions, was sentenced to two years in jail for selling $70 worth
of marijuana to a plainclothes police officer. Tucker got one year.

"People will not stop smoking pot even if we did," Baldasaro said four
years later after the failed bid to have his church exempt from
Canada's marijuana laws. "I ain't leading anybody. Rev. Tucker and I
are just fighting for our religious rights. It's not like I'm building
guns and selling them on the street."

Tucker died of heart failure in 2012 at age 79.

Baldasaro was viewed by some as a "fringe" candidate.

But his idea in 2010 for medical marijuana grow-ops in Hamilton's
industrial core hit the mainstream four years later when councillors
asked staff to explore that very possibility.

Boyd said Baldasaro had become annoyed that federal efforts to relax
marijuana laws were turning the church's holy sacrament into a
corporate commodity.

But Baldasaro wasn't a one-issue man. He also looked out for the
well-being of drug users, sex workers and the homeless.

"They shouldn't be in jails. They need help. The police have better
things to do than go after these people," he said during a 2014
mayoral bid.

Church member Karen Coruzzi will remember him as a big-hearted

He helped her escape a life of hard drugs on the streets 25 years ago,
she said.

"He taught me to love myself," Coruzzi said. "He's a great

Boyd believes Baldasaro knew deep down he wouldn't clinch a seat in
office, but he believed he could make a difference.

His perseverance was admirable, said Laura Babcock, who moderated
candidate forums that featured the witty "crowd favourite."

Even if he didn't stand a chance of winning, he hit the hustings
well-prepared to discuss the issues that mattered to him, she said.

"He understood the process and felt strongly that he should be
contributing to it."

Boyd said it's a shame Baldasaro never held office.

"He would have been a wonderful mayor, but alas, that's not going to

Baldasaro didn't want a funeral, Boyd said, but the church plans to
hold a memorial event for him in the next few months.

He leaves behind an uncle, sisters in Ohio and his son, Aaron, who
lives in Vancouver.

- ---------------------------------------


In Baldasaro's words:

"I feel the government and the Queen are violating fundamental rights
and freedoms in the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta, and the
Bible itself."

1982 - on Canada's pot laws

"I went to get some marijuana for my mission, the mission of brothers
and sisters … I don't sell it. I give it to people. It's my religion,
that's all."

1984 - on a drug-trafficking charge

"Conditions are horrible. They should be investigated."

1994 - on the Barton Street jail, where he was serving time for drug

"Put it in. The valley's beautiful. I want to drive down there and
look at it. The only way I'm going to see it is from the window of my
car. They stole it from me when they put a golf course in there."

2003 - on the Red Hill Valley Parkway

"I've been around. A mayor is supposed to represent everybody. I know
everybody from the little guy to the big guy."

2003 - on his criminal record

"I know I can manage these sons of guns. I was raised by my father.
Everyone is ripping us off. We're broke."

2014 - on getting tough at City Hall
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt