Pubdate: Sun, 16 Dec 2007
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Tera Camus, Cape Breton Bureau
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


SYDNEY - Guilty or not, people suspected of certain crimes are being 
turfed from their homes across the province.

So far, occupants of 23 homes, apartments or trailers have been 
evicted since the summer, when a new division of the Justice 
Department began to fully enforce the new provincial Safer 
Communities and Neighbourhoods Act. Proclaimed Jan. 7, the act is 
intended to target suspected drug use and sales, prostitution, 
illegal gaming, bootlegging or child sexual abuse.

The Justice Department hired and armed five former police officers to 
staff the public safety investigative unit, which has looked into 130 
complaints from the public. More than half of those reports came from 
rural Nova Scotians sick of suspected criminals and the perceived 
lack of action by cash-strapped police forces. About 20 of the 
complainants were Cape Bretoners.

"We're surprised that less than 50 per cent of all the complaints we 
received originate from the Halifax or Sydney area," said Fred 
Sanford, director of the new section. "The act is designed to give 
relief to communities where many people feel held hostage by criminal 

But some say the law could pose a danger to people's rights.

One of Canada's leading constitutional lawyers, Peter Hogg of 
Toronto, said the act, similar to legislation in Manitoba, 
Saskatchewan, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador, leaves plenty of 
room for abuse of power by the state.

"I'm surprised this hasn't been challenged," he said by phone 
Thursday. "This sort of thing hasn't come to Ontario yet."

How it works is this: The unit's five investigators bolster the 
efforts of municipal and federal police by gathering enough evidence 
to satisfy a Supreme Court judge there is sufficient reason to lock 
up buildings and kick out all tenants with what's called a community 
safety order. "It's very exciting to see legislation that really 
works," Mr. Sanford told The Chronicle Herald in a recent interview. 
"We can do things that police officers can't do."

For starters, they don't need a search warrant, something needed to 
gather evidence intended to be used to convict a person of crime like 
drug trafficking.

The squad also doesn't use traditional investigative techniques like 
costly wiretaps. They use mostly covert observations captured on 
video to detect possible criminal activity.

Also "the director has the authority to enter a property without the 
consent of the owner or occupant to close it under an order and keep 
it closed," Mr. Sanford said.

So far, every time the investigators have entered a neighbourhood, 
local police have been called to back them up while they lock out the 

Mr. Sanford said Justice Department lawyers for the department have 
obtained community safety orders because "the burden of proof in 
court is a balance of probabilities" of guilt.

Once an order is granted, the division's investigators post an 
eviction notice on the door and shut down the property for 90 days.

In October, occupants of one home on Cornwallis Street in Sydney not 
only were served an eviction notice, but also a warrant from Cape 
Breton Regional Police. According to police, on Oct. 5, the street 
crime unit arrested a man at 137 Cornwallis St. for trafficking drugs 
like LSD, marijuana and hash oil.

They also charged him with improper storage of firearms and 
possession of an illegal handgun. Officer also seized cash alleged to 
be the proceeds of crime.

"Many transients move out on their own . . . and in fairness to 
landowners, many are not aware of illegal activity going on," Mr. Sanford said.

He said after they gather video evidence, they confront the occupant 
or the building owner about the alleged illegal activity.

"It's quite effective . . . If we're convinced you're dealing drugs, 
we'll come to visit . . . plug in a laptop computer and show (you) 
the evidence. It gets their attention."

Next, they discuss their findings with local police agencies, which 
decide on the next step, such as whether to get a warrant to conduct 
searches for evidence of criminal activity.

Tom Urbaniak, a political scientist from Cape Breton University, said 
there's a valid policy objective in the process because it's 
extremely difficult to shut down, say, a known crack house. But he 
called the legislation, which passed in 2006 with all-party support 
after little debate, an example of "laziness."

"All too often, elected officials are neglecting one of their core 
functions, which is to scrutinize legislation," he said after 
reviewing the 16-page law, which gives sweeping powers to 
bureaucrats. "They are not actually reading the bills that come 
before them. They are not doing their legislative homework."

He said there seems to be too much power afforded to the provincial 
bureaucrat who heads the new enforcement unit.

"The act contains vague and ambiguous statements, allowing, for 
example, the director to 'take any other action that the director 
considers appropriate,'" Mr. Urbaniak said.

"Furthermore, the act actually says that the director does not have 
to give reasons for his or her decisions.

"The act, as written, is easily prone to abuses. Innocent tenants or 
family members could find themselves suddenly on the street," Mr. 
Urbaniak said.

"Tenants are not given the automatic right to respond to such an 
order before the order takes effect, and the onus would then be on 
them to prove that they should not be locked out."

A frivolous or vexatious argument involving a neighbour could also 
lead to a wrongful eviction or put innocent women and children on the 
street, a concern raised by the Newfoundland Advisory Council on the 
Status of Women.

So far, the people evicted from their homes in this province have 
been kicked out for suspected drug activity, but one case involved a 
suspected prostitute.

Sgt. John O'Rourke, head of the Cape Breton Regional Police street 
crime unit, said the new unit will help bust crime.

"We're all working toward the same goal, getting crime off the 
streets. . . . So we don't care who does it as long as it gets done."

The act also gives the province the right to shut fortified buildings 
and order them removed within 21 days or shut them down for 90 days 
and bill the owner for the expense.

A fortified building, according to the act, is any building protected 
by bulletproof or explosive-resistant material, protective metal 
plating, armoured doors or metal bars on doors or windows.

Anyone interfering in a closed home can face a year in jail or a fine 
of up to $20,000.

People with a concern about illegal activity in their neighbourhoods 
can report it to the enforcement unit at 1-877-357-2337.



.Target properties in which there is suspected bootlegging, drug use 
or trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse and gambling;

.Give courts the power, after hearing from provincial lawyers, to 
close properties adversely affecting neighbourhoods or posing a threat;

.Allow provincial authorities to enter private and publicly owned 
dwellings without a warrant or owner's consent to shut down them down 
for up to 90 days at the cost to the owners or tenants;

.Terminate any landlord-tenant agreement or lease arrangement;

.Give the authorities the power to hire workers to tell occupants to 
leave immediately and to attach locks, erect fences, cut off power or 
water supplies, or make interior or exterior changes so closed 
properties don't pose a hazard;

.Require that information be shared with other agencies such as 
police, courts or the Children's Aid Society;

.Provide access to information for occupants on where to find 
alternative accommodations or emergency shelter; and

.Allow for penalties against anyone entering a closed property, 
including fines up to $20,000 or a year in jail.

Source: Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom