45 Years Ago: Jimi Hendrix Arrested in Toronto
On May 3, 1969, Jimi Hendrix faced a potential career-threatening situation when was arrested at Toronto’s International Airport for illegal possession of narcotics.
While going through Customs, an inspector found a bottle containing six packages containing questionable substances inside Hendrix’s bag, and the guitarist was immediately taken into custody.
Rolling Stone‘s original report on the bust says that police were waiting on Hendrix’s arrival in Toronto from Detroit. And although members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were unable to make a positive identification of the substances at that time (later determined to be heroin and hashish), Hendrix was detained by police before being brought downtown to police headquarters to be charged. He was eventually released on $10,000 bail.
At his arraignment two days later, a June 19 court date was set for a preliminary hearing. Hendrix was in court for a total of three minutes before leaving the court to perform at a sold-out Maple Leaf Gardens that night. He took to the stage saying, “I want you to forget what happened yesterday and tomorrow and today. Tonight we’re going to create a whole new world.”
Hendrix professed his innocence in the case right from the start. And while this might seem like the natural thing for any guilty party to do, a number of things relating to the bust were indeed unusual:
Specifically, the behaviour of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was called into question. After all, why were the police waiting for Hendrix’s arrival at the airport? And why did they not afford Hendrix the opportunity to be searched in private, away from the general public’s view?
To many, this was seen as similar to the late-’60s arrests of members of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, where the motives of the police outweighed the concept of justice. MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer said, “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that the right-wing government forces were behind all of that…There was an effort, a movement, to stop this threat that rock and roll represented.”
The trial began on Dec. 3, 1969. His defense team did not dispute the drugs were found in Hendrix’s luggage. Instead, they took the position that he was not aware that he was carrying the drugs.
Hendrix was called as the first witness by his defense team, telling the court of how he was often showered with gifts from his fans. He explained that on a trip to California earlier in the year, a female fan had given him a vial of what he believed to be Bromo-Seltzer which he then put in his bag.
The trial lasted three days but in the end, after eight hours of deliberation by the jury, he was acquitted of the charges that were leveled against him. Flashing a peace sign when speaking to reporters after his acquittal, Hendrix said, “Canada has given me the best Christmas present I ever had.”