So-called filmmaker convicted in assaults

April 28, 2006
Globe and Mail
By Shannon Kari

VANCOUVER -- Anthony (Big Tony) Terezakis wiped away tears yesterday as a jury rejected his claim of being a "reality-based" filmmaker and convicted him of 11 charges related to assaults captured on amateur video.

The verdict was delivered after more than 23 hours of deliberation that began Monday afternoon.

On one count of unlawful confinement the jury was deadlocked, and the Crown agreed to stay that charge. As well, Mr. Terezakis was acquitted of two counts of assault causing bodily harm and convicted of the lesser offence of assault.

In convicting him on nearly every count, the jury found that the several hours of beatings depicted on videotapes filmed at two rundown hotels in
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were not an example of cinéma-vérité, but a series of violent assaults.

The verdicts concluded an unusual two-month trial, but not the end of criminal proceedings involving Mr. Terezakis. What the jury did not know is that before his trial began in February, lawyers for Mr. Terezakis, 45, were successful in having his most serious charge dismissed by the court.

He was originally charged in August of 2003 with "instructing" three associates to traffic in crack cocaine and heroin for the benefit of a criminal organization.

It was the first "criminal organization" charge filed in B.C. and one of the first in Canada since new organized-crime provisions in the Criminal Code
came into effect in January, 2002. The charge, which carried a maximum penalty of life in prison, was filed as part of a broader RCMP probe dubbed Project Ecru.

The charge was dismissed against Mr. Terezakis when Madam Justice Heather Holmes ruled in December that the provisions were overly vague and struck down the section as unconstitutional.

The federal Justice Department has filed an appeal of that ruling, which will not likely be heard until the fall.

The fact that the striking down of the Criminal Code section was related to the prosecution of Mr. Terezakis was subject to a publication ban until the end of his assault trial yesterday.

With the most serious charge dismissed, there was another unexpected development when Mr. Terezakis agreed to plead guilty in February to operating a drug ring at the American Hotel in 2002.

As a result, the 18-month police probe into organized crime and drug trafficking that began in 2002 led to a trial in 2006 hinging on whether a series of videotaped beatings were real or staged.

The tapes were turned over to police by the estranged wife of Mr. Terezakis, two months after his arrest on the drug charges.

In them, the burly man is frequently seen yelling at drug-addicted residents of the American and Cobalt hotels to improve their lives and to read the Bible. The price for not following these rules was often a beating from Mr. Terezakis as he repeated the phrase "Praise the Lord."

During his trial, Mr. Terezakis testified that these were staged videos and that he hoped to market them in some fashion, under the title Bible Thumpers. He insisted that the violence was not real and that he had been playing a "larger-than-life" character in charge of "security" at the hotels.

The amateur videos were inspired by the movie Jackass, he told the court.

None of the beating victims testified for the Crown. Two people seen on the videotape testified as defence witnesses and claimed that the beatings seen on tape, with bruises and cuts visible, were not real.

To provide context to distinguish between real and fictional violence, Judge Holmes permitted defence lawyer Pamela Smith-Gander to show excerpts from the movie Reservoir Dogs, a documentary about the movie Apocalypse Now and the movie Jackass.

After the verdict, Ms. Smith-Gander said outside court that she was pleased her client was not convicted of the most serious charges and that Mr. Terezakis has not backed down from his defence. "He still maintains this was a movie about the plight of those living in the freak show that is the Downtown Eastside."

She added that Mr. Terezakis has been a "model inmate" during his 33 months in pretrial custody and that when the videos were made he was "battling demons," including drug addiction.

"We respect the verdict," Crown attorney Peter Hogg said outside court. "It
has been a long and difficult case."

As he was led back to his cell once the jury had left the courtroom yesterday, Mr. Terezakis turned to Mr. Hogg and said, "It's not over yet."

A sentencing hearing for Mr. Terezakis on the drug and assault charges will be held on Thursday.