If you can avoid being arrested for a drug-related offence, I recommend you do so. But after spending a few days in the drug courts of Old City Hall, I've come to realize that some people are more likely to be arrested than others.
I don't do drugs, but among my middle-class friends drugs are not unheard-of. I'm surprised, then, when I arrive at the drug bail court and find the middle class so woefully under-represented.
Every drug arrest in the megacity goes through this courtroom. If I want to see who's doing drugs, a lawyer tells me I should go to courtroom 103. I head over there.
The court docket shows that all but two of the people appearing this morning are charged with both possession and either trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, and cocaine charges out-number those for marijuana by about two to one.
But the duty counsel tells me that the docket paints a pretty inaccurate portrait, in that a possession charge could be for any amount, and trafficking could be in amounts as small as a joint sold to a friend and as large as a drug-dealing business. He also explains that the police regularly inflate the charges to show that they're making arrests, even if they don't expect them to stick.
From that point, it's up to the accused to try to struggle free, and bail court is where this labyrinthine process begins. This is what I see when I get there.
10 am A young black man wearing a crucifix so enormous that it could easily strangle Madonna is first on the docket. He's wearing a Fubu football shirt, has his sunglasses perched on his shaved head and seems bored. He's held down -- that is, sent back to his cell.
10:03 A small, young white man, his hair pulled into an untidy ponytail, his shirt untucked, looks nervously around the courtroom for the friend who might have come to post bail but hasn't. Held down.
10:05 A short Mediterranean-looking man with the air of a small-scale gangster smiles at his girlfriend, who's festooned with multiple nose-rings and dreadlocks. Held down.
10:12 A black man about 30, his baggy clothes those of a manual labourer rather than a hiphop fan, looks ruefully at his feet.
10:14 This is first case that actually gets resolved. Another black labourer, charged with possession and trafficking of cocaine, gets released on $1,000 bail. He's to report to the police once a week.
10:17 A shaggy young white man in a wrinkled shirt fixes his eyes on the ceiling. He catches the attention of the crown prosecutor, though, who argues that he has a "lengthy record" and is not to be released.
10:35 A confused-looking black man in his 40s contemplates his own hands, which appear to have performed a great deal of manual labour. Of all the prisoners so far, he looks the least like someone who might be involved with drugs, but he's charged with possession and intent to traffic marijuana.
After barely half an hour, a recess is called and the court spills out into the hall. The pursuit of justice, I'm coming to realize, requires a great deal of loitering in corridors.
In the hall I overhear a lawyer talking to his client's mother. "You've bailed someone out before?" he asks. "Yeah," the woman replies, "my other daughter."
11:05 An older white man with a grey ponytail and fingers stained by nicotine leans over the glass and argues his case with the crown. He is unsuccessful, perhaps because he's also charged with theft.
11:07 A young, clean-cut black man stands up, charged with possession. He's a student and has no record. The crown recommends that he be released on $1,000 bail on the condition that he possess no cell- phone or pager, that he observe an 11-pm-to-6-am curfew and that he report to the police once a week.11:14 A young black man who couldn't be bothered to button the cuffs of his shirt appears for trafficking cocaine.
11:15 A young black man in the height of hiphop fashion appears for possession and is released on $2,000 bail. The justice of the peace's eyelids flicker in a show of boredom as he reiterates the conditions for what already feels like the millionth time. A lawyer quips, "How is he supposed to function in the modern world without a cellphone?"
11:22 A clean-cut young black man with sad eyes and no lawyer stands up. The crown argues successfully that he should not be released.
11:35 A fat white man in his 40s, with a wrestler's haircut, has been caught in possession of 1.38 grams of crack and 3.5 grams of marijuana. He keeps asking the crown for the exact figures, as if trying to determine whether the cops got everything. Finally, the judge interjects irascibly, "Do you want a bail hearing or a trial?" "A bail hearing," the accused responds. But when he hears that the crown wants $3,000, he bursts into tears: "But I have no one to bail me out!"
11:52 The scene changes. A diminutive middle-class white girl in a blond bob of the rave-attending variety is charged with possession of a controlled substance. Her mother has provided a foil for the tattoos and resignation in the corridor all morning, demanding justice on her cellphone and insisting to anyone who will listen that she can't believe her daughter is guilty. Her other daughter has been carrying a change of clothes. Daughter number one grins when it's announced that she's to be released on $2,000 bail.
When the court breaks for lunch, I ask the duty counsel about the girl. She's interesting less because of her race, he tells me, than because of her class. He then points out the obvious. It's not that middle-class people don't do drugs -- it's just that they tend not to get arrested.
Later, in the plea court, I see how this works. Three young black men are in the booth, their three white lawyers draped over the glass like lovers, preparing for the proceedings.
The first, it turns out, was stopped and searched; he had a few grams of marijuana. The second was caught when he sold $50 worth of crack to an undercover agent at Jane and Finch. The third, a 20-year-old in grade 12 who was stopped and searched at Yonge and Gerrard, was caught with marijuana. All three have been in custody for more than six weeks waiting to plead guilty.
"Between Harris and Fantino and Lastman," one duty counsel says, "these are tough times for the little guy."