CAFE landlord convicted on appeal in Toronto illegal pot-shop case

The City of Toronto can claim another victory in its years-long battle over CAFE, the chain of illegal cannabis stores that has defied law enforcement attempts to shut it down for the last five-and-a-half years.

A judge in the Ontario Court of Justice ruled in the city’s favor Wednesday afternoon and convicted the landlord of CAFE’s original flagship location at 66 Fort York Blvd.

Judge Vincenzo Rondinelli said landlord Mohsen Ghelichkhani could have done more to try to stop CAFE from illegally selling cannabis from the storefront, which operates out of a condo unit he owns in the CityPlace neighbourhood.

Rondinelli overturned the acquittals, on six counts, that Ghelichkhani won at his trial last year in front of a justice of the peace.

It’s a provincial offense under Ontario’s Cannabis Control Act for a landlord to “knowingly permit a premises” to be used as an unlicensed pot shop. But it’s also a complete defense if the landlord “took reasonable measures to prevent the activity.”

The judge who heard the City of Toronto’s appeal ruled Ghelichkhani did not take sufficient steps to try to deal with the illegal CAFE pot shop operating out of his condo unit at 66 Fort York Blvd. (Instagram)

Rondinelli’s decision on Wednesday said the justice of the peace at Ghelichkhani’s trial erred by finding that “the only reasonable measure” he could take as CAFE’s landlord was to go to trial on his provincial charges.

“In this case, the [landlord] admitted at trial that he had known at least since August 2017 that the premises were being used contrary to the law….[He] only began taking steps to deal with the tenant in the early part of 2019.”

The judge said Ghelichkhani could have changed the store’s locks, called the police or gone to court to get an order to allow him to make efforts to evict CAFE.

“No action at all was taken by [Ghelichkhani] between October 2018 and January 2019 when [he] finally began the process of trying to evict the tenant through the Landlord and Tenant Board,” Rondinelli said.

“As limited as the options were … there nevertheless remained reasonable measures that [he] could have taken. instead, [he] took none until well after the first contravention had occurred.

“As a matter of law, the defense of due diligence does not require superhuman efforts, but it does require reasonable measures and precautions to prevent the occurrence of a contravention of the law.”

A lawyer for Ghelichkhani said he couldn’t comment until after his client is sentenced at the end of March.

The City of Toronto, which prosecutes most provincial offense charges, also would not comment on the case in light of the upcoming sentencing hearing.

Ghelichkhani was the first of four landlords to go to trial on Cannabis Control Act charges related to CAFE’s illegal weed stores. Since then, the landlord for the CAFE outlet at 1321 St. Clair Ave. W. was acquitted on multiple counts, and the landlord for the CAFE at 932 Bloor St. W. was convicted on two of four charges and fined $50,000 in December.

City workers placed huge slabs of concrete in front of the CAFE outlet in July 2019, part of a cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement and the chain of pot cafés. (CBC)

The trial in a fourth case, against the owner of CAFE’s premises at 104 Harbord St., began last February but went sideways when defendant Ali Gillani appeared to reverse his testimony mid-trial. His lawyer had to withdraw and the case is set to resume in March.

An ongoing CBC investigation into CAFE has found that one of its main owners and prime movers has been Wesley Weber, a Windsor, Ont., native who has used at least three other aliases over the years and racked up an extensive criminal record, including convictions for forgery, fraud, counterfeiting, assault, possession of property obtained by crime and cultivating marijuana.

Send tips on this or any other story to zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca

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