The Moroccan Camel Saddle Caper

Publication Year: 

Image retrieved from on August 28th, 2013.

Ottawa is one of the world's coldest capitals, rivaled only occasionally by the capital of Mongolia and perhaps Moscow. But the city below Parliament Hill was cold in other ways as well, particularly within the burgeoning paper land of federal rules and regulations governing people's lives. It was true that Trudeaumania would loosen the city up the following year, when a Quebec intellectual named Pierre Elliot Trudeau became prim minister. He would promise to get government out of the bedrooms of the nation, but would also build a huge bureaucracy whose job, it seemed, was to put government under ever bed and lampshade. For Seed and his fellow underground journalists such bureaucracies were part of the wold's problems. They would unashamedly reveal their intent to reject such authority as part of their goal of totally changing a world which they believed was weary with war, hate, poverty and corruption.
The Free Press editor was among people of like mind that night in March 1968. Most of the party-goers were activists of one kind or another, including Deline who had dabbled in the peace movement as a Toronto high school student, even bringing a Vietnam War deserter to his parent's home. After studying at the university of Waterloo he had moved to Ottawa to attend Carleton University and work with the fledgling co-operative housing movement in the city. Money was scarce for many, so much so that they rarely had enough to take in a folk or blues act at L'Hibou, a coffee house down in the old town that attracted big-name Canadian acts like Buffy Saint-Marie, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, their American counter parts like Time Hardin, and blues greats like Muddy Waters.
The talk eventually focused on the package, wrapped in nondescript brown paper and measuring about a cubic foot, which had arrived a few weeks earlier from Morocco and had sat curiously unopened. It was addressed to P.J. Coop. A fictitious name that really stood for a local co-op house, it would occasionally appear in the Free Press masthead under “Busines.” Seed fondled the package, curious to know its contents. Then he suggested that they open it. After all, it was sent care of Steve Harris, who had begun appearing in the masthead by the third issue of the paper. What harm could be done?
After a brief debate, the anxious group ripped through the brown paper wrapping, revealing a leather Moroccan camel saddle. It resembled an ornate-looking foot rest, recalls Deline. A cryptic note said, “Nice to get near the source of supply, and intimated that they should search for other contents as well. On reading it, the group tore open the top of the saddle. As they burrowed through the straw stuffing, they discovered a pothead's cornucopia of delights. A bar of hashish as big as a fifty-cent chocolate bar (we're talking 1967 big bars here!), a bag of marijuana seeds the size of a large pineapple and a pound of marijuana. Also enclosed were some long, narrow Irish clay pipes. Before long someone had rounded up some Zigzag cigarette papers, the preferred brand of the educated doper, and the party was off to a great start. Not everyone was having a good time, though. Deline was getting paranoid. It had been a frightening year for the hip community. Plenty of police raids and drug charges. The Free Press had been more than a little outspoken on the subject in its first few issues. Seed had been inspired by some of the American underground journalists at papers like the Los Angeles Free Press, the Berkeley Barb, the Chicago Seed, the East Village Other, Seattle's Helix and the San Francisco Oracle. They had pumped their papers full of American drug guru Timothy Leary's message of tune in, turn on and drop out. Seed and company cribbed the message, seeing it as another political taunt to the Ottawa authorities, and ran the simple, verbless headline,”Timothy Leary,” across the front page of their first issue. Inside they quoted him bringing “love and blessings to the people of Canada” from his LSD commune in Millbrook, New York. Jones had held a cheap tape recorder to the telephone receiver to get the story. There was also a report on the Vancouver drug scene by John Kelsey, then editor of the University of British Columbia paper, the Ubyssey. (Kelsey would later move east and team up with seed.)
What might have raised healthy concern to the higher plane of paranoia, however, was an item by Les Schramm, who was listed in the Free Press masthead as an associate editor. A year earlier, Schram had been visited by some of the burlier members of Ottawa's finest. Ostensibly they were searching for drugs, but Schram viewed it as a police-state invasion right out of the pages of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The illegal entry into his apartment and the brashness of the police officers so incensed Schram that when Seed floated the idea of the Free Press, he leaped at it. Something had to be done to counteract this madness. Under his first byline, something he insisted writers use so as not to appear as if they were hiding behind anonymity, Schram recounted the police raid.
”Royal Canadian Mind Fuck,” Exclaimed the headline, but the psychedelic lettering made it almost unreadable to the untrained, unhip eye. “The RCMP aims to use the right to entry and search to induce paranoia in that large segment of the population known as heads.”wrote Schram in an angry, personal style that was the gutsy hallmark of the best of underground journalism. “They are playing with minds in the worst possible way – inducing withdrawal from the organized society which they endorse, denying the pot or acid heads a fully integrated life in the community, denying him the right to live his private life as he sees fit – a right granted to every one else include in the alcoholic.” The rant, also inspired by they local authorities' refusal to allow Leary to speak in Ottawa, moved on to an even angrier indictment of Douglas Wilbert ford, who had set up the Ottawa narcotics squad.
A black and white photograph of a stone statue adorned the back page of that first “messianic” Free Press, as Schram dubbed it, It looked harmless enough at first glance, but closer inspections showed it to be two people copulating. To turn the page into a mild satire, the editors added a small button with a picture of then prime minister Lester B. Pearson. On it was the caption “Mike for me in'63.” The police avoided “going for the jugular,” recalls aschram. Instead of arresting the editors, they responded by arresting some high school students who, like many young people around the country, were earning a few extra dollars as street vendors of underground newspapers. The charge was distributing obscene literature.
In the next issue, later that spring, the paper went on the warpath. A column called “Red Baron” harangued readers about attacks on the drug culture, an article by Malay Roy Choudbury took a stand “in Defense of Obscenity,” a page of gruesome photographs of dead Vietnamese met readers' eyes as they turned to page three and the back cover sported a full blown photo of an uniformed police officer with a German Shepard on a leash.

pp.27-30 of Under Ground Times by Ron Verzuh (1989)

Le Hibou, drugs, lsd, hash, morocan