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Giles Slade Headshot

Butterflies Are Free, But Not Comedians

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Everyone knows Saturday Night Live, but few people remember Tony Rosato. He was less visible than more successful Canadian comics like the serially unfunny Dan Aykroyd or my personal favorite Jim Carrey whose name I have to labor to remember these days, since my first impulse is to call him my beloved Count o-LAF.

I recognize and remember Tony because we went to high school together during the Nixon years. He played football, took dancing lessons and hung around with Aykroyd's cousin, Peter, who slept beside me in science class.

I thought Tony was a dumb jock. I was wrong.

When I checked his name against the Internet Movie Database before writing this, I was amazed at the number of screen writing credits he has. Somehow, I'd completely missed the fact that he was talented: (although I have a vivid memory of chis SNL impression of Yasser Arafat).

Following high school, I tried to break out of Canadian propriety and stodginess by moving to Los Angeles and studying comedy in an academic setting (duh!), but Tony walked right up to the door of the chicken ranch and ran its bell. After they pulled him inside, we lost track.

Through the Aykroyds, he connected with the wild world of Second City TV and eventually moved to Manhattan to write for Saturday Night Live. From time to time, I'd see his face on one of those dreary sitcoms whose characters' catchphrases are more memorable than the show's name.

'Whatchoo talkin' about...?'

Well, back in 2005 something happened inside Tony's brain. They call it Capgras Syndrome, but it's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Tony thinks people close to him are being replaced by impostors. It can make him violent, and it scares his wife silly. Of course, if he lived in L.A. he could just go sit in the 'replaced by aliens' section. Nobody'd think twice.

But Tony has returned to Canada where bureaucracy reigns and civil liberties for the mentally ill are much less important than they are in America. If the highhanded incarceration of troubled people against their will for prolonged periods of time seems like a vicious antique in this new century, well, welcome to Canada.

My eyes were opened last fall, when a dear friend had a breakdown. I was the one who drove to the hospital and sat waiting until we could finally be seen by a specialist. This took 12 hours at the end of which the specialist left and a nurse accompanied by two security guards came to lock my friend behind an observation cell's steel door for 24 hours. I began to get very scared. My years in America have left me with very un-Canadian ideas about liberty.

I took my friend's arm and pushed past the guards. We frogmarched to the parking lot, got into my truck and drove over the curb to avoid stopping at the toll booth because by this time security guards were pouring out of the doors, pointing and shouting. Unsure of what to do next, I took my friend home, locked the truck in the garage, turned out all the lights, purveyed a sleeping pill and watched it take effect.

Within hours the police came. I reasoned that if they didn't have a warrant they couldn't bust in, so I sat in the dark quietly waiting for them to stop pounding and go away. My wife, my kids, my friend did not wake up, and the cops eventually left. I thanked God for habeas corpus.

Next day we went to another hospital -Vancouver General-- for another 6 hour wait. Successful this time, even if the only accommodation was a mattress on the floor.

Don't imagine I'm joking; it gets much worse.

On May 5th 2005 Tony Rosato was arrested and imprisoned in Ontario where he languished without trial until September 2007 when a judge finally found him innocent, but nonetheless sentenced him to reside in a mental institution for the next three years.

Despite his false arrest, prolonged incarceration and technical 'innocence', Tony won't be released until 2010 or until he accepts 'treatments' he doesn't want. Meanwhile his young wife, Leah, lives frugally nearby supporting their three year old daughter as best she can, hoping for a miracle.

Rosato's lawyer, Daniel Brodsky is a specialist in the byzantine aspects of how Canada's criminal code mishandles the mentally ill. He and Rosato's friend, Sonny Grosso, are at the center of efforts to get appropriate justice and treatment for Tony.

If you have a loved one or friend who suffers from mental illness and think that Tony and his family are getting the dirty end of a short stick, you might think of helping Leah and her child.

Brodsky is in the Toronto yellow pages: ( I've never spoken to him). I can't find any contact information for Grosso (who's a big time producer). Of course, Tony himself is still inside.