Pubdate: Fri, 19 May 2006
Source: Coast Reporter (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Coast Reporter
Author: Patricia Hall
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


The province passed a law last week giving local authorities access to
hydro bills to enter homes with high power consumption in an effort to
shut down marijuana grow-operations. But the amendment to the Safety
Standards Act is receiving mixed reviews on the Coast.

Nicholas Simons, New Democratic Party MLA for Powell River - Sunshine
Coast, voiced his opposition in the legislature last week, citing
privacy concerns. However, Sechelt Fire Chief Bill Higgs, along with
the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C., notes the legislation's
importance in protecting the safety and lives of firefighters entering
grow-op houses filled with electrical hazards.

"I'm not saying we are all going to feel like we are under
surveillance, but I'm concerned and maybe overly so about privacy
because it is not easy to get that back," Simons said in an interview
this week.

He explained the legislation, in practice, would involve local
authorities pinning a note on the door of a house with a high BC Hydro
bill, giving 48 hours notice before the house is inspected.

"If [fire chiefs] think it's going to make workers safer, then good,
but I think ultimately this problem is going to remain because they
will just be hidden better or they will be moving it more often and it
will not remove any drugs from the system," Simons said. "There is a
big gap between the problem we are trying to address and the
effectiveness of addressing the problem. If this will in fact make our
community safer, I'm in favour of the legislation. By the passing of
this legislation we just need to be aware that if we want to really do
something about this issue we need to talk about it in the open
without fear."

The fear he refers to, he said, is the fear of discussing marijuana

In an interview this week, Higgs said firefighters are pleased to see
the provincial government pass the Safety Standards Act

"It's a large firefighter safety issue responding to house fires that
are actually grow-ops," Higgs said. "When the firefighters arrive, we
tend to find ourselves in a really dangerous situation because we
think it's a normal house and we go crawling in there and there's
unfused electrical circuits. In some cases where we've been before,
there have been spike boards put on the floor to injure people trying
to go in the house. And, of course, we don't know this when we show

He pointed out that people who are not professional electricians
install electrical wiring in grow-op houses, creating a fire and
safety hazard.

"We're hoping that we're going to have the power now to go in and shut
these grow-ops down before some firefighters get caught up in it,"
Higgs said. He explained the police and fire departments and an
electrical inspector would go into the house under the new

"As soon as there is a reportable consumption of electricity, I'm sure
we'll hear about it and take appropriate action," Higgs said.

In response to privacy concerns, he said, "My priority is to keep my
firefighters safe and that is my priority. It comes second to privacy
concerns, I'm afraid. If people aren't doing anything wrong, I don't
think they have anything to worry about."

He recalled a fire in a grow-op house the fire department attended a
few years ago in an upscale neighbourhood that nearly killed a couple
of the firefighters and the people in the house.

"We've already had a bunch of close calls," he said. "So we're really
serious about this and if someone's privacy and information gets
trampled on, so be it."

On a local government level, a proposed controlled substance bylaw is
before the District of Sechelt council, which Coun. Ed Steeves first
introduced more than a year ago to follow Chilliwack's example. The
bylaw would require landlords to check their rental properties for
grow-ops every three months, which is less than the time it takes to
grow a crop, Steeves noted. If the bylaw is violated, the landowner
could be fined, the house closed down, the power shut off and the
owner would have to apply for a building permit. Steeves said most
grow-ops are on rental properties. "We think it's probably a way to
maybe curb it a bit, and therefore landlords will take better care of
their rental houses," Steeves said.

According to Sgt. Gerry Webb, the Sunshine Coast RCMP have had 35
files since Jan. 1, 2005 investigating grow-ops. In addition, police
received 15 to 20 tips of grow-ops during that time that were never
confirmed conclusively as being grow-ops. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: SHeath(DPF Florida)