420 on Parliament Hill Sets Attendance Record by Russell Barth – April 20, 2012

photo courtesy of Christine Lowe

CFN -As Ottawa’s (arguably) most publicly-known marijuana activist, I have been consistently embarrassed in the eyes of my fellow activists – both nationally and internationally – by Ottawa stoners’ propensity for splitting the 420 crowds into two. Year after year, half the participants were going to Parliament Hill, and half were going to nearby Major’s Hill Park.


Look at any Youtube video of “420 Ottawa” from any of the previous years, and you see a lot of evidence of this. Two crowds both numbering hundreds or even thousands (depending on the weather, no organization, no coherent message. Meanwhile, my friends from Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver post pictures and videos of 10,000 – 15,000 people, stage set ups, P.A. systems, kiosks, the works.

This year, Ottawa organizers Graham Kittmer (and others), took it upon themselves to try and gather these two groups together. Well, that sort of failed, at first, but ironically, the day was saved by the Ottawa Police Service. There were no volunteers to help marshall the parade, if there was ever going to be one, so they took it upon themselves to keep the Major’s park clear of ne’er-do-wells.

My wife and I arrived at Major’s Hill Park at about 3:15 pm, to find maybe 20 cops, some with motorcycles, telling about 20 stoners, sitting in small groups throughout the park, to move along. Police were under the false impression that the whole thing was supposed to be on Parliament Hill, and informed me that there was a huge crowd there already. With little choice, I pointed to my camouflage “MEDICINAL” shirt, and told them that for the rest of the day, they can tell the stragglers, “on behalf of the organizers”, yes, it is all at the Hill this year. Wasn’t much I could do, and I offered that as a help to the police, because some of the kids, surprisingly, were still not leaving.

I would like to point that the OPS were completely within their rights to arrest people – not only for using pot in the park, but for smoking tobacco as well. There is a new bylaw in effect and it will make the summer complicated and difficult for everyone, but the police were extremely cordial about the whole thing. More than they needed to be, actually, and should be commended.

We got to Parliament Hill just after 3:30 and there were already at least 1,000 people there, I would guess, and the crowd was growing fast. The stink of pot and tobacco was profound.  The RCMP stood around like parent chaperones at a high school dance, forced to listen to music and watch dancing designed specifically to infuriate them. They feigned boredom to mask their disdain and/or delight.

I met with the organizers and the featured speaker, Marc Boris St. Maurice from Montreal. I wandered around taking video and spoke to some media and a student crew who were making a documentary about political protest, not just pot protests.

At one point, there was an asian man with two toddlers – yes, toddlers – standing right in the middle of all of this weirdness, and I went over and asked him “Do you have any idea what is going on today?”


He did not. I explained the party/protest aspect, and that he was welcome to stay. I also told him that he should head off to the east corner – upwind – as “…in about 12 minutes, a huge cloud of dope smoke is going to come wafting across this thing and, well, your kids are gonna get stoned. And that’s not cool. You need to get them out of here. Like, now.”

Four o’clock came around and Boris started things off. He did a short intro, and then, apprehensively, handed the mic to me.

Notice that I had the TV guy just over my right shoulder? Not sure if that shot got on TV, but I am told I was on CTV news that night. I spoke to the cameraman and said

“Make sure they represent these numbers accurately, right?” He said “I shoot wide, I shoot tight, and they edit it how they want. I have no control.”

4:20 pm approached and I was having a lot of trouble getting my joint lit. Finally managed to, with the help of some over-eager beaver who kept bugging me, on camera, for a toke of my joint. I explained politely that I had a Health Canada permit, and sharing joints on camera was a good way to lose that permit.   So no.   He also feigned reluctance to be on camera, which I chided him for.


“No one  comes to these things expecting to avoid cameras. You come here to be photographed. That is the point of this.”


I asked the RCMP what they thought the crowd size was, at about 4:05. They shrugged and nodded at each other, and we all agreed it looked like about 4000 people. Still growing though, at this stage. Here is a nice time lapse video of the Hill-Cam courtesy of Youtube’s own “purplegummibear”:

I also noticed that the RCMP did not have their usual “surveillance” van with a Horseman on the roof shooting with a long-lens SLR like I have seen at other pot-themed Hill events. They must have realized by now that if they want photos of who was all there, all they have to do is look at the internet. People love toking on camera.

The crowd lit it up at 4:20 pm and I was a little aghast, quite frankly. I had never been in anything like this before:


Several minutes later, I started to panic a little when I could not find my wife. Keep in mind, we both have social anxiety issues that come with PTSD, and she has epilepsy, so crowds of enthusiastic revelers is a little off-putting for us. A lot off-putting, actually. I kept walking around the Parliament steps – the “stage” – looking for my wife, trying to spot her black shirt in a sea of 5500 people, half of whom were wearing at least some black.

Eager Beaver kept bugging me to light my joint again, while I became increasingly frantic. I eventually became quite terse with him, and feel justified in doing so, and here is why: You  don’t go to these events and bum tokes off people. You just don’t. Bring your own, chip in with friends, or politely wait for something to be offered. Asking for pot – that is trafficking.


Offering pot – that is trafficking. But most of all, it is just Bad Form. You don’t meander along patios asking for bits of food or smoke from restaurant patrons, do you? You don’t ask for a  bite of a sandwich as you walk by someone’s park picnic, do you? Well, if you are homeless, okay, maybe you do, but otherwise, no. And, no – that is not a shot at the homeless, it is a shot at all the stray dogs who come to these events with empty pockets. Show some self-respect, dude. Bring your own, or suck it up!

Still unable to find Christine, I had Boris page her on the PA and she arrived seconds later. I hugged her hard for about 10 seconds. She told me should could feel my heart pounding. My primary function – as a living human – is to take care of her. Failing in that is unacceptable.

We hung around for about another hour, talking to media, and I was even interviewed live on local rock radio station The Bear (106.9fm in Ottawa) (http://www.thebear.fm/) at about  5:00pm.

Next year, weather permitting, and with April 20 falling on a saturday, I think we can get the number up over 8000. Here’s hoping.



  1. From 2008…

    On the 20th of April, at 4:20 in the afternoon, a cloud of marijuana smoke rose from the lawn of Parliament Hill, hovered and built for a few moments, then rolled lazily down Wellington Street. No deaths, property damage, or injuries were reported, and the resulting carnage was confined to pizza and sausages – purchased at food establishments on nearby streets shortly afterward.

    The annual event which played out under the watch of RCMP and Ottawa Police saw no arrests made. This is not to say however that police don’t enforce marijuana laws in other places, or that lives aren’t ruined at the whim of law enforcement at other times. What it does say, is that the enforcement of law has become arbitrary.

    Our nation and culture stand on the “rule of law”, and even the textbooks in our schools explain that when a law becomes unenforceable or society’s values change, then the law must change.

    Sadly, given our Justice and Safety Ministers’ views of Charter Rights, hypocrisy, and their blustering compatriots’ support for unequal and arbitrary application of the law, it is more likely that we will see the textbooks change.

  2. There seems to be growing momentum these days to almost force an end to our insane laws prohibiting the use of pot. It won’t happen under Herr Harper’s rule, but he’ll be gone about three years from now. The only people who want to retain the the current laws are hard-core conservatives, religious nut-bars, dope dealers, and organized criminals.

  3. I think we set the attendance record in Downtown Toronto as well! 2012 must be the year for big things to happen

  4. Actually Peter, the Mernagh case promises to rattle both the CDSA and the MMAR cages this May, so we could be looking at defacto, court-issued legalization as soon as this summer….
    Other cases pending as well.

  5. It’s pretty bad when we have to depend on the courts to force our governments to do the right thing. No wonder Harper is stacking the courts with like-minded troglodytes.

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