Pubdate: Fri, 26 Oct 2007
Source: Bloor West Villager (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 Bloor West Villager
Author: David Soknacki
Column: Behind the Headlines


Former Scarborough Councillor And City Budget Chief David Soknacki 
Offers His Insight On Municipal Politics

In mid-October, police raided a residence near Brimley Road and Finch 
Avenue and found a drug lab with an inventory of about two million 
units of ecstasy.

This was the same property, belonging to the same owner, in which was 
found a commercial marijuana grow operation last year. Media reports 
describe garbage on site that had still not been cleaned up from last 
year's raid.

You'd like to think that crime shouldn't happen twice in the same 
spot. You'd like to think that a property owner would be sensitive to 
the cumulative deterrents of police raids, negative attention and 
lost income after the first charges. You'd also like to think that 
society could design deterrents to minimize this type of antisocial activity.

This story isn't about restricting the supply of cannabis that is 
used and abused by about 15 per cent of Torontonians. Rather it's 
about solutions to a crime that has more than quadrupled from 80 
instances in 2002, that nearly burned down a row of houses downtown 
earlier this year, that is usually related to organized crime, has 
been linked to murder and creates collateral damage among 
unsuspecting neighbours and residents.

The direct health risks of living in the same building as these drug 
labs are so severe that children found in these residences are 
routinely put under the protection of the Children's Aid Society.

Discovering that ecstasy lab showed our deterrents are not working.

To be fair, over the past few years council has made positive moves. 
Goaded by Ward 39 (Scarborough-Agincourt) Councillor Mike Del Grande, 
last month council approved a bylaw under which the city would 
invoice property owners for the costs of remediating properties used 
as marijuana grow operations.

It's a good first step.

But as the case this week shows, there's more that needs to be done. 
Fortunately the city has the ability to do so.

To start, both the city's bylaw and the province's enabling 
legislation have defined the problem solely in terms of marijuana 
grow-ops. To keep current, laws need to be updated to include 
clandestine drug labs.

One idea supported by the province's information and privacy 
commissioner, but discontinued in Toronto, is to publish a list 
properties used as grow-ops or clandestine labs on the police's website.

Not only do grow operations and drug labs risk health and property, 
but each uses large amounts of resources that can be best used 
elsewhere. According to some studies in the United States, the costs 
of investigating, raiding, prosecuting and finally remediating and 
counselling for these operations typically runs more than $100,000.

City staff can order the remediation of the property, set reasonable 
deadlines for completion and charge full costs if the work is not 
done to satisfaction. Not only does the city now have the obligation 
to deal with grow operations, but it can collect unpaid fees and 
remediation costs as taxes.

As taxes, the city's claims come before owners as well as financial 
institutions. Seeing a few remediated buildings sold to recoup taxes 
will get the attention of absentee landlords and lenders.

Just as we have placed responsibility for hotel guests' security with 
hotel owners and bar patrons' sobriety with publicans, the city can 
put a responsibility on property owners who allow their properties to 
become a risk to society through its ability to assess its costs and 
fees as taxes.

The ability to deal with this problem is available, and the need is 
apparent. What's left is the will.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart