Pubdate: Wed, 04 Jun 2008
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Paul Forsyth
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Former Thorold Church Used In Operation Shut Down By Police

Neighbours of a former church in Thorold that police say was part of 
a large-scale, sophisticated network of marijuana growing operations 
say they had no idea there was anything out of the ordinary with the building.

Last Wednesday evening and continuing into Thursday, detectives and 
Niagara Regional Police's emergency task unit, morality unit, the 
gangs, guns and grow unit and proceeds of crime unit raided a 
greenhouse and warehouse in Lincoln, a warehouse and home in 
Wainfleet, and the former St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church at the 
corner of Cleveland Street and Garden Street in Thorold.

Police netted marijuana with a street value of at least $15 million 
- -- the largest such bust in the history of Niagara police -- during the raids.

An elderly woman who lived across from the church said she was 
shocked to learn of the raid.

"My God ... I can't believe it," she said, taking a break from pruning shrubs.

The woman, who has lived in her home for 51 years and who didn't want 
her name used, remembers the church being built about 40 years ago. 
She said it used to be a beehive of activity: weddings, showers, 
funerals, almost nightly bingo sessions and Sunday services. She 
would sit on her front porch with her late husband and watch parish 
members coming and going.

"It used to be very busy," she said.

In recent years, though, the church's membership waned as it has at 
many other churches.

"They were the nicest people," the woman said. "(But) many of them have died."

Another neighbour who also didn't want to be identified said fewer 
and fewer cars were in the church parking lot on Sunday morning in 
recent years. While he'd just found about the bust at the church 
while at work, the man said he isn't surprised to hear about yet 
another grow-op.

"They're all over town," he said.

He, too, saw nothing suspicious going on at the church in recent weeks.

"I never saw any traffic there," he said.

Police say there are often tell-tale signs of grow-ops, such as 
suspicious cars coming and going, loading and unloading materials, 
power surges, covered windows, unkempt lawns and a skunk-like smell.

Standing outside a neighbouring apartment building having a 
cigarette, another woman who also refused to give her name, said she 
wasn't even aware the church had been sold. She said the only trouble 
she ever saw the church was teens trying to break in from the Battle 
of Beaverdams Park next door.

Police distributed photos to the media of the Lincoln greenhouse 
operation, located on 13th Street, showing marijuana plants neatly 
arranged in individual planters inside.

The other raids took place at a Lincoln warehouse on Red Maple 
Avenue, and at a warehouse and house located next to each other on 
Highway 3 in Wainfleet.

Police charged eight men ranging in age from 30 to 61 from Pelham, 
Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines, Caistorville, Maple and Toronto 
with offences related to the growing and distribution of marijuana. 
They also seized cash, buildings and vehicles.
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