Pubdate: Mon, 22 Jun 2015
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2015 The StarPhoenix
Author: D.C. Fraser
Page: A4

Safer Communities 10 Years Later


REGINA - Michael Newell didn't know he was being watched. At least, 
at first he didn't.

Newell's neighbour believed he was doing - maybe even selling - drugs.

That neighbour took the accusations to Safer Communities and 
Neighbourhoods (SCAN).

And that's how, years later, Newell found himself desperately 
searching for a new place to live.

Newell's troubles trace back to May 2004, when a bill was introduced 
in Saskatchewan aimed at making communities safer.

It said as much in its name: the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.

Referred to as SCAN, the law was meant, according to a government 
press release at the time, to "improve community safety by targeting 
and, if necessary, shutting down residential and commercial buildings 
that are used for illegal activities."

"This new Bill will significantly assist our law enforcement officers 
in fighting organized crime and the illegal activities associated 
with it," then-justice minister Frank Quennell said in the release.

"This legislation will also empower residents to take back their 
neighbourhoods by anonymously reporting problem residences and businesses."

It has been 10 years since SCAN became law in Saskatchewan.

It has been praised by police forces and landlords in the decade since.

Others, though, say it is too easy to shut down buildings or evict 
tenants under SCAN.

In the summer of 2011, after a neighbour complained he was 
trafficking and using drugs, SCAN officers started investigating a 
rented house where Newell was living.

Newell admits he smokes marijuana but insists he's no dealer.

The following February, SCAN officers - on behalf of the landlord - 
applied to the Office of the Residential Tenancies (the Rentalsman) 
to end Newell's tenancy.

The officers believed, in essence, that Newell was dealing drugs 
where he lived and posed a danger to the neighbourhood.

"I got to the point where I could pinpoint them watching my house," 
said Newell.

But the Rentalsman decided that Newell had not engaged in activity 
"likely to cause damage to the landlord's property or to adversely 
affect the quiet enjoyment, security, safety of physical well-being 
of the neighbours."

SCAN officers then took the matter to provincial court, where 
Newell's landlord was named as a respondent. Newell's lawyers were 
able to convince the judge to add him as a second respondent so he 
could defend himself.

It was all for naught, though: Newell was evicted from his residence 
in September 2014, three years after he was initially investigated. 
The next month, he was in court facing charges from 2012 for unlawful 
possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking in an amount 
not exceeding three kilograms. The Crown agreed to a guilty plea of a 
lesser and included offence of simple possession. Newell was fined 
$300. He has never been convicted of trafficking drugs.

Critics of SCAN say the standard of proof required in getting a 
property closed or a tenant evicted is lower than what it would be in 
a criminal case.

Judges are tasked with making decisions one way or another, but the 
amount of evidence and proof required to get a tenant evicted or 
property closed in these cases is lower than what's needed in criminal cases.

As most know, a person must be found guilty "beyond a reasonable 
doubt" in a criminal case.

"That's a very high standard," said Sarah Buhler an assistant 
professor at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.

She says under SCAN, the officers just need to have a "reasonable 
inference" of illegal activity occurring.

"It's not a high standard to convince the court that these things 
have been happening," said Buhler. "The standard is lower in terms of 
what needs to be proven."

Ernie Wenman, manager of SCAN south, said that in civil court, 
decisions are made based on a balance of probabilities, or what's 
more likely than not. Many of the SCAN officers are former police 
officers, a background that is useful for investigations and court appearances.

"The courts rely on our evidence and they rely on our ability, our 
backgrounds and our history to say that the activity that we're 
seeing, that we do honestly believe is an illegal or criminal 
activity," he said.

Lawyers who have defended clients against SCAN are tough to find. 
Newell is rare in that he decided to push back against SCAN.

According to Buhler, many who are targeted aren't willing to get 
involved with the judicial process and will simply accept an eviction 
rather than trying to defend themselves.

"They're probably the more marginalized members of society," she 
said, adding people who are dealing with SCAN have likely had bad 
experiences dealing with the justice system in the past and aren't 
willing to go back into a courtroom.

There have been 716 evictions as a result of SCAN investigations 
since 2005, but according to Buhler, the numbers don't show any 
evidence communities are being made safer by those evictions.

"Just evicting people in a housing situation right now that's so 
tight and so difficult, where people are having a lot of trouble 
finding adequate and affordable housing, is really not solving any 
root or systemic causes (of neighbourhood safety)," Buhler said.

Often, SCAN officers find the people living in a property they're 
investigating will move before they're done or the police will become involved.

"The hope is if we keep on them and keep annoying them, then 
eventually we'll deter that crime," said Const. Jonathan Turner with 
the Regina Police Service, who has worked with SCAN officers on a 
number of investigations.

He said neighbourhoods have a better chance at being safe if they 
continue to annoy those breaking the law, especially considering the 
alternative is just letting them be.
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