Pubdate: Mon, 22 Jun 2015
Source: Regina Leader-Post (CN SN)
Copyright: 2015 The Leader-Post Ltd.
Author: D.C. Fraser
Page: A1


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

A neighbour of Newell believed he was doing - maybe even selling -

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 that aimed at making communities safer.

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

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

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

"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 or physical wellbeing 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

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 comes in useful for investigations and court

"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 a bit 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 will find the people living in a property they're
investigating will move before they're done or the police will become

"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.

"A lot of the times we want these properties to be taken away from
these drug dealers because that's where it hurts them the most," he

In many instances, SCAN officers issue a warning letter or offer the
people living at the property an opportunity to explain themselves
before moving forward with further action, according to Wenman.

Newell said he borrowed money to afford a move and now owes thousands
of dollars to those who lent him money.

"I had no money to even move," he said. "I had my kid living with me
and my pregnant wife living with me," he said. "Now I'm pretty much
wreaking the havoc of going into debt."

In a new place now, with a one-month-old son and his wife, he believes
SCAN officers are once again watching his house.
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