Pubdate: Tue, 29 Mar 2005
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell


Toronto police expert says our pot problem rests with B.C. and Asian crime

But critics believe changing attitudes are behind the wave.

Blame the West.

Toronto's top drug cop says "general liberal attitudes towards drugs on the
West Coast" and "a lack of appropriate policing" in western Canada are
ultimately responsible for the explosion of indoor marijuana grow ops in the

Staff Insp. Dan Hayes, who gave the Toronto Star an overview of the struggle
to contain commercial grow ops, also described a West Coast connection with
Asian crime groups, who police believe are moving east with their
marijuana-growing know-how, bringing with them "recruits" from recently
immigrated families to tend the crop.

"They go to college on the West Coast and then bring their expertise to
Toronto," Hayes said, citing the fact that the lion's share of grow ops
busted in Greater Toronto have been tended by people "on the very lower
levels of the (criminal gang) spectrum, recent immigrants primarily,
Vietnamese and mainland Chinese immigrants."

Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd disagrees. He said changing
culture and attitudes, not migration, are responsible for the spread of grow
ops across the country. "There's been a cultural change in the '90s, just as
there was in the '70s, and it's not confined to Canada. You can see it in
North America and increasing rates of cannabis use globally. It's a cultural
phenomenon, it's not a phenomenon that has much to do with law enforcement
or migration east or west."

Nor, Boyd added, did Ontario or other provinces need to import expertise
from other places in order for cannabis cultivation to flourish. "It's not
very complicated to grow marijuana, you don't need a lot of training," he
said in an interview from Vancouver.

RCMP Insp. Paul Nadeau, head of British Columbia's co-ordinated marijuana
enforcement team, agrees that supply and demand accounts for the boom
underway in Ontario. Last week at a meeting in Montreal, he told Toronto
Deputy Chief Bill Blair: "You better buckle your seat belt because ...
Ontario will be No. 1 in the coming years," surpassing B.C. as Canada's
biggest producer of indoor pot.

"There's nothing magical in the air about growing pot in B.C. that can't be
duplicated in other provinces, so if you want to get into the eastern U.S.
market, it would only make sense that you would grow it in eastern Canada,"
Nadeau said.

Seizures of Canadian-made marijuana by American authorities have increased
259 per cent since 2001 but still constitute only about 2 per cent of all
such seizures at U.S. borders, according to a report prepared by Canadian
and U.S. authorities. The vast majority of marijuana seized at U.S. borders
comes from Mexico, the report said.

But there is a vast network of growers here who would love Canada to surpass
Mexico: many from B.C., many of them Vietnamese who are relocating to
Ontario, Nadeau said.

"As a matter of fact, I've heard internationally about grow ops in New
Zealand where they arrested Vietnamese growers that have originally come
from ... British Columbia, where they'd learned their skills."

A B.C.-based researcher recently finished a study examining every grow-op
investigation conducted in the last seven years in that province. "The
numbers insofar as the involvement of Vietnamese subjects being arrested in
grow ops is ridiculous. I think over 30 per cent of the people arrested at
grow ops in this province are from Vietnam," Nadeau said, adding the
Vietnamese population in the province is roughly 30,000.

"You talk to any investigators in this province and they'll tell you they
run the best grow ops out there. They're very clean, very organized. (The
pot) has a very high THC content," which is the active ingredient in

Nadeau's not sure if they came to Canada "as a gang or (as) individuals.
They operate in co-operatives, we call them here, smaller groups, many, many
smaller groups. Is there a big picture to it all? There probably is, but we
haven't been able to get to the bottom of that."

But police there are seeing a trend toward increased co-operation among
criminal organizations "working together to get the product to market. For
instance, Vietnamese growing, outlaw motorcycle gangs brokering the stuff,
we have Indo-Canadian trucking firms that are transporting the stuff, and
then you've got the good old-fashioned white-collar criminals in Vancouver
that are laundering the money."

The focus on growers of Vietnamese origin is worrisome for the majority of
Vietnamese Canadians who have no connection to the underground, said Jan
Nguyen, vice-president of the Vietnamese Association (Toronto). She worries
about a stigmatizing effect.

"Vietnamese have contributed very positively to Canadian society.
Unfortunately, these are individuals that have kind of tainted the image of
our community," she said.

In an email, Nguyen offered this quote from a senior member in the
Vietnamese community who did not want to be identified. "Since grow op (sic)
is a lucrative business, it has attracted people from many different
backgrounds ... so, stereotyping of any community should be avoided at all

But Nguyen and others are also asking questions about the large numbers of
Vietnamese and Chinese people being arrested in connection with GTA grow
ops. Are they monopolizing the business, asks Toronto defence lawyer Kim
Schofield, or are they being sought out by police, who are overlooking other
groups involved in the illicit and flourishing trade?

But people who are not of Vietnamese or Chinese background are being
charged, including a 54-year-old Burnt River, Ont., woman after 1,600 plants
were discovered in a barn in the Kawartha Lakes area. Or a 26-year-old
Toronto police constable charged with trafficking after 525 marijuana plants
were seized in a grow house in Scarborough. Both were charged in the past

Det. Sgt. Karen Noakes, of the York Region police drug and vice squad, said
while some Vietnamese people are "very entrepreneurial and have found a
product that is giving them a lot of money," there are many deciding "to
sort of ride the wave."

"There are more people kind of looking at it. `Maybe I can give this a try.'
We have a lot of hydroponic stores and equipment stores that are out there,
people are driving by, they may decide to pop in, you find a lot of
information on the website. To say it's all organized crime, biker gangs, is
an overstatement."

Schofield, who has represented many Vietnamese clients in grow-op cases,
suggests law enforcement may, consciously or unconsciously, be engaged in
selective enforcement. She cited the example of a police officer in Barrie
visiting a land registry office looking for Vietnamese names, though she did
not point to where and when this might have taken place.

"Are they being targeted is really the question," she said in a recent
interview. "Is it true or not true? That is the point of racial profiling:
the police seem to think `but it's true.' That's not the point. We have to
be very careful about assumptions based on race, whatever those assumptions

She referred to a 10-month joint investigation, dubbed Project Potluck,
conducted by a number of law-enforcement agencies in 2002 in Mississauga.

Police had four Mississauga-based hydroponic supply stores under
surveillance: Sunlight Hydroponics, Easy Grow Hydroponics, Vitamax Gardens
and All Seasons Hydroponics.

In March of that year, 38 search warrants were executed and 39 people were
charged, virtually all of them Vietnamese. When was the last time police
raided other hydroponic stores that have sprouted up across the GTA,
Schofield asked.

And if people point out that a local Vietnamese newspaper features ads for
hydroponic growing equipment, it should also be noted that a long-standing
sponsor at radio station Q107 is Homegrown Hydroponics, she added.

It is harder for Vietnamese people to blend into society, which may in turn
lead to an arrest rate that might be disproportionate to the number of
actual growers, she said.

At least one judge has censured a police officer for making reference to
"Vietnamese people" seen at suspected grow ops in an application for a
search warrant. "It's like saying the guy down the street's black, black
people sell crack, let's go raid the house," Schofield said.

"That's a pile of crap and you can quote me," Staff Insp. Hayes responded.

"The fact of the matter is - and I'm not proud to say this - most of the
grow ops that we take down (come from responding) to other police
investigations," he said. "Unfortunately we don't have the resources to
proactively go out and investigate a lot of these grow ops. What we've been
finding is there will be a radio call for a fire or a flood, or some other
type of criminal activity, a fight, a break and enter, those type of
situations. Police then respond to those calls and then we essentially are
tripping over the marijuana grows."

Schofield also raised the spectre of people in residential areas being
suspicious of neighbours simply because they appear to be Vietnamese or

It's a concern for Toronto's 90,000 Vietnamese, said Nguyen, who wishes some
attention would be directed at understanding why some members of her
community "have situations and circumstances to lead the life that they
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