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  • Writer's pictureRoss Campbell


Chapter 1 – The Illegal Bust

I first encountered the Bad Cop in 1974 while I was a graduate student at the university in Saskatoon, an artsy college city on the prairies. I began performing semi-professionally on campus, then got my first real gigs at the Parktown Motor Hotel, just across the 25th Street bridge from the university. No pubs were on campus then, so thirsty students flocked to Parktown.

I started off as a single performer on guitar, then, after some initial success with the Parktown crowd, I formed a quartet called CONTINUUM in which I could play sax & violin as well as sing my original songs, many of which are available to hear on this website.

The Parktown was our semi-regular gig for some months, so we got used to the routine. There was a handy free parking spot on the street right outside the main door, where I habitually parked my 1941 Dodge Kingsway Special. For those unfamiliar with that model of car, here’s a photo:

Notice the groovy “suicide doors” into the large back compartment, just like an old Al Capone car, able to seat 5 with extra jump seats.

As young people may forget, marijuana was illegal in those days, and long-haired “freaks” or “heads” like me were considered to be criminals by the police and often stopped and subjected to illegal searches on the street. Some cops, like the rotten apple I sing about, found hippies to be easy targets and specialized in busting them in order to boost their careers.

We were aware of police cars which cruised slowly through Parktown’s driveway near the stage area from time to time while we were playing there but didn’t think that much about it.

CONTINUUM would typically play an hour set, then take a half hour break. Our habit was to go out to my Dodge, crowd into the large back seat and smoke a fat reefer to give us inspiration for the next set. In retrospect, my old car stood out and made it easy for predatory cops like John to figure out what we were doing.

My initial musical training had been on classical violin, and I was able during this time to secure a position with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra , which rehearsed once a week in downtown Saskatoon. I was the only longhair in the orchestra, but the Maestro was of a liberal mind, plus they needed violinists.

One Monday evening at about 6:30 pm or so, I was driving my Dodge down 2nd Avenue, one of Saskatoon’s main streets, on my way to symphony rehearsal, when I was pulled over by a police cruiser for no apparent reason---I was not speeding, nor had I made an illegal turn or any such thing.

When the cop came up to my window, I could tell by his manner that he seemed to recognize me, using a sarcastic pseudo-friendly tone of voice. Without any justifying preamble, he immediately told me to get out of the car, which I did.

Before I really knew what he was planning to do, he immediately checked the breast pocket of my jacket. Don’t you know it, I had a pre-rolled reefer in there for after the rehearsal, which he found, to his obvious pleasure and delight. I didn’t know his name at the time, but that cop was John Popowich.

Having so easily found exactly what he was looking for, John became really over-the-top sarcastic and overbearing, and that’s when I saw John’s huge over-inflated ego really come into play. It was evident that he got a big personal charge from having nabbed me, way beyond the legal aspect. He was sky high on the power trip, and actually strutted back to his cruiser in his bliss at busting me.

I won’t dwell on the drearier part of the story, wherein he took me into the police station, charged me with Possession of Marijuana and made me spend the night in the can.

I found out later that John had done the same or similar thing with many many other young potheads and others. In fact, by then John already had a rep in the force for being the “king hippie buster”, and he later bragged about it to his official biographer, including his trick of pretending to smell marijuana before illegally searching people (stay tuned to read all about that juicy part of this wicked story in Chapter 6).

All I knew at the time was that he emanated that heavy power-tripping attitude which too many cops seem to use routinely to intimidate citizens, even to this day. I believed then, and still believe now that police training courses should get better at weeding out that type of aggressive individual who loves to be in a position to push people around. Unfortunately natural bullies are attracted to a career in the police force, for obvious reasons. John was one of those natural bullies, and in my mind he brought dishonour to the whole police force.

Of course I subsequently had to go to court, with all that that entails, and ended up paying a hundred dollar fine. It was bad enough being busted, but I was particularly bothered by the circumstances, and felt a strong pang of injustice after the whole ordeal.

For one thing, John had not said anything about a traffic infraction as justification for stopping me to begin with. Neither had he presented any suspicion or other legal justification for having searched me on the spot, though afterward, he claimed to have smelled marijuana in my car, a convenient lie.

Even without formal legal training, I was aware that John’s behaviour was a flagrant exploitation of his role as an officer of the law. With John, evidently, ego gratification ruled.

It was easy to conclude that John had targeted me because of the use of my stand-out car as a handy smoking chamber between sets at the “hippy bar”. As to what I could do about it, the only answer was (and still is) “Not a DAMN THING!”

However, I knew that John was a particularly rotten apple and not typical, luckily, of all police officers, most of whom performed their jobs honourably back then, as they do now. I hit upon an idea and decided to take one small step within my power to accentuate the difference between power-tripping monster cops like John Popowich and the rest.

Chapter 2 will explain the simple little device I used to bring attention to John’s sickness throughout the city of Saskatoon. This is still only the beginning of a long twisted tale---we’ve hardly scratched the surface, so STAY TUNED to find out how well it worked to screw John up in the long run, mostly by his own doing.

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