CAFE owner appears to change testimony mid-trial, throwing wrench in illegal pottery case


The saga of Toronto’s tenacious chain of illegal pot shops took another unusual turn this week, as a landlord giving evidence under oath appeared to change his tone from the day before the prosecutor was accused of yelling at him on it and the defendant’s own attorney has hinted that he may have to recuse himself.

It was just the latest bizarre twist in the history of CAFE, the chain of sleek but unlicensed weed-selling cafes that became infamous in Toronto for repeatedly thwarting law enforcement attempts. order to close them.

Landowner Ali Gillani is on trial on four counts under Ontario’s Cannabis Control Act, alleging he knowingly allowed a CAFE outlet to operate from his building at 104 Harbord St.

Gillani is the first of four CAFE owners to stand trial, after bylaw officers imposed provincial charges on them between 2018 and last year. As he took the stand this week in his own defense, the proceedings took some interesting turns.

He told the court on Wednesday that after buying the building on Harbord Street near Spadina Avenue in October 2017, his property manager was approached by a potential commercial tenant to open “a normal coffee shop that sells espressos, pastries, donuts, muffins”.

He testified that he signed a lease with the tenant, a numbered company called 9956271 Canada Inc.

Ali Gillani, right, is seen here in drafts of promotional materials circa 2015 for digital currency company Incryptex, with company founder Wesley Weber (using the surname Kam). Weber later co-owned Toronto’s CAFE pottery store chain, and Gillani is one of CAFE’s owners. (Radio Canada)

CAFE – short for Cannabis and Fine Edibles – publicly announced its opening at the property two and a half months later, on December 29, 2017. Gillani said under oath that he didn’t find out about it until long after – he mentioned to several times July and November 2018 – that the putative cafe was actually selling illegal buds from its building.

This led to a backlog of charges against him, each punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and two years in prison.

Key to his defense under provincial law is whether he took “reasonable steps” to have CAFE stopped, which Gillani said he did: send a notice of default of lease to the numbered company, calling the Landlord and Tenant Board and a bailiff (neither was willing to help, he said).

Officially, the CAFE premises have also been repeatedly closed by law enforcement, which means that Gillani could be released since legally no one was supposed to be in the building.

“I hear something very different today”

It appeared in court on Thursday, however, that after the previous day’s session ended, prosecutors sent a number of corporate documents to Gillani’s lawyer showing that his client appeared to play a role in the highly numbered company he testified was trying to evict from his apartment building (CBC News also reached out to Gillani and his attorney Wednesday afternoon about those same public records).

Gillani had personally signed three corporate documents for the company as early as five months before she became his tenant, and he used his accounting firm’s business address on another official document, the court heard Thursday. Gillani said it was because his accounting firm provided routine administrative services to businesses.

But on cross-examination, he appeared to change his mind about who was behind the CAFE outlet on Harbord. He said he was wrong and that he was not being exploited by the numbered company after all – that in fact, while the company had signed a commercial lease with him to open a cafe, he agreed to let them out just 10 days later when they realized how much it would actually cost to get started.

“Tell me what triggered your memory?” the city prosecutor, Gabriella Ruta, asked the accused.

Gillani replied that he spoke to his property manager during the court break between Wednesday and Thursday. “I had to go back and ask him for the script of what happened, the basic facts,” he said.

Witnesses are not supposed to discuss their testimony in cross-examination with anyone while they are in the middle of it. The prosecutor’s tone borders on lividity.

“I’m just going to stop you there. Is your evidence that while you were in cross-examination you spoke to the other people about your testimony before you come to court today? »

Gillani maintained that he did not.

Jeff Brodie, a residential tenant at 104 Harbord St., gets into a fight with Toronto police in July 2019 after raiding the illegal CAFE pot shop operating in the same building. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Instead of the numbered company, Gillani on Thursday laid the blame for the CAFE outlet on the feet of a residential tenant who lived on the second floor of the building. He testified that the man, a contractor and small-project painter named Jeff Brodie, moved in in April 2018 but somehow orchestrated CAFE’s arrival three months earlier, funded huge renovations to the building, and was the source of all the misfortunes of its owner.

He said CAFE had been illegally occupying the building – and essentially squatting for more than four years.

“He has our property under lock and key, and we just want it back,” Gillani said.

“This information is entirely different from yesterday,” Prosecutor Ruta said at one point.

During his testimony on Wednesday, Gillani told the court that Brodie was likely the person who first alerted him to CAFE’s illicit activities. He even said he relied on Brodie to keep tabs on what CAFE was doing.

In a separate property-related court case, Brodie said he had “nothing to do with CAFE” and simply lived in the same building.

Gillani began to offer an explanation for the apparent about-face.

“Mr. Gillani, please stop,” interrupted Justice of the Peace Paula Konstantinidis.

“Quite frankly, I have very different notes in terms of what you said yesterday, in terms of rentals, time, after you took possession of this particular building, and I’m hearing something very different today. ‘today.”

At one point, Ruta’s tone with Gillani became so angry that her attorney accused her of yelling at him.

The lawyer alludes to the recusal

Then suddenly, after a short pause, Ruta and Gillani’s lawyer, Noel Gerry, announced to the court that a problem had arisen and the case should be adjourned.

“It’s a complex question,” Gerry said. “I’m going to need time to absorb it and get some legal advice.”

He hinted to the justice that he might have to withdraw from the case.

Contacted Friday by CBC News, Gerry said neither he nor his client had a comment.

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