Pubdate: Thu, 20 May 2010
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2010 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Ian Austin, and Tamara Baluja


Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has vowed to press on with a program to 
shut down grow-ops - even after it lost out in court Thursday.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled that the Electrical and Fire 
Safety Inspection program, which allowed fire officials to enter 
homes without warrants, violated the Charter of Rights. "We have no 
intention of stopping the program," Watts told The Province. "It's 
been very successful. We'll work with the ruling."

The B.C. Court of Appeal found that the provincial law advocating 
"warrantless entry" - the ability of fire officials to trace power 
spikes and then enter homes without warrants - violated the Charter 
right to privacy. "The expectation of privacy is high and the 
inspections are very intrusive," read the appeal court documents in 
determining that the Safety Standards Act broke the Charter.

Critics of the law were pleased. "We really see this decision as a 
great victory for British Columbians and Canadians," said Grace 
Pastine, litigation director with the B.C. Civil Liberties 
Association, which took part in the trial along with the 
complainants, Jason Arkinstall and Jennifer Green.

"It's upholding the sanctity of the home."

The provincial law had permitted communities such as Surrey to 
identify homes where power suddenly spiked, since the lights used in 
grow-ops use vast amounts of electricity. Inspectors would be 
dispatched - critically, without a warrant - to tell those in the 
house that fire-safety inspectors would return in 48 hours.

Arkinstall, the complainant, has a Hells Angels connection and a 
considerable criminal record. He wouldn't allow police officers to 
enter his home, but let in a B.C. Hydro inspector, who found nothing 
wrong. The inspector was then ordered by municipal officials to cut 
off power to the home.

Robert Holmes, president of the BCCLA, said he wasn't aware of 
Arkinstall's Hells Angels background but said Arkinstall was 
entitled, as anyone, to basic privacy rights.

"Everyone's rights get respected until a judge tells you otherwise," 
said Holmes.

Pastine also said she knew little of Arkinstall's criminal past, and 
the intent was to fight for privacy for all.

Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said he expected to sit down with the 
city's legal department to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

"That discussion hasn't taken place yet," said Garis, who said the 
program is focused on shutting down fire hazards. "We're not 
concerned about the drugs. We're trying to ensure fire safety."

Garis said only four times in 1,000 searches have inspectors been 
forbidden from searching homes. He believes the program can continue, 
but that the department will now seek warrants allowing them to enter 
suspicious homes.

Watts said any adaptations needed to keep the program going will be adopted.

"We'll work with the ruling and make sure those pieces are in place," 
she said. "Typically, the police have never entered the premises any 
way. We're coming at it from a fire-safety perspective. If there was 
a criminal element to it, of course, we would get a warrant any way."


Instituted in March 2005, the EFSI program has led to the inspection 
of more than 1,000 Surrey homes suspected of housing grow-ops.

Inspectors identify homes with spikes in Hydro consumption, then, 
without producing a warrant, give homeowners 48 hours' notice before 
a comprehensive search takes place.

Without the need for costly, time-consuming criminal investigations, 
Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said the growers simply close up shop: 
"Eliminating growops not only reduces crime, but because grow-ops and 
electrical fires go hand-in-hand, it also combats a very serious 
safety issue for both the public and our firefighters entering the buildings."

Surrey officials credit the program with a dramatic decrease in 
marijuana grow-ops.
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