Pubdate: Fri, 14 Jul 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Daphne Bramham
Page: A3


The audacity of the Sahota family is breathtaking. Its patriarchs are
notorious slum landlords, who wanted to branch out and run a cannabis
shop in the heart of Vancouver's west side.

Their licence application was rejected Wednesday as the board of
variance refused to bend on the prohibition on pot shops within 300
metres of schools.

The proposed Herban Legends was 260 metres away from one of the city's
most prestigious private kindergartens, York House Little School.

You can't blame the Sahotas for trying.

If they've come to believe that they are above the law, it's because
the city and provincial governments have been complicit.

On their way to building up a $130-million real-estate portfolio that
consists of four single-room-occupancy hotels, the Sahotas have pretty
much done whatever they liked and suffered no real consequences for

If we can thank them for anything, it's that the Sahotas' actions have
pretty consistently highlighted - depending on your perspective -
either the city's impotence to enforce the laws or its unwillingness
to do so.

In June, the city finally evacuated residents from the Sahota-owned
Balmoral Hotel because not only were the conditions unthinkably bad,
the 105-year-old building was structurally unsound. At that point, the
landlords had citations for 183 outstanding building deficiencies and
150 violations.

There's also a class-action suit in the B.C. Court of Appeal that
involves another Sahota-owned building, the Regent Hotel.

When it comes to slum landlords, the city says it lacks the
enforcement tools it needs. The province, so far, hasn't been willing
to give municipalities those powers.

And then, there's cannabis. For two decades, Vancouver politicians
didn't do anything about a proliferation of pot shops. Vancouver
police targeted street sellers and traffickers, but left the shops
alone even though the marijuana, various extracted oils and edibles on
sale came from illegal grow-ops.

The Sahotas incorporated Sunshine Coast Cannabis Farms Inc. in 2015,
three years after Sechelt's then-mayor bragged about turning his
community into the pot capital of Canada after drafting a bylaw to
allow large-scale commercial grow-ops in industrial and agricultural

It's not clear whether the Sahotas' company ever set up a grow-op or
produced cannabis. But it is not in good standing and is in the
process of being dissolved.

Only a few months after Sunshine Coast Cannabis was incorporated,
Vancouver's then-city manager, Penny Ballem, raised the alarm about
the close to 100 illegal pot shops in Vancouver and her concerns about
keeping cannabis away from children.

Using its power to license businesses, the city passed a bylaw
prohibiting any shops within 300 metres of a school, banning anyone
under 18 from entering the shops and prohibiting the sale of edibles
and candies that might be more appealing to children.

In 2016, the city's board of variance began hearing the first of 62
appeals from existing pot-shop operators who had been denied business
licences. At its first meeting, the members rejected applications from
within the 300-metre limit - as they did on Wednesday with the Sahota

The mere presence of the Sahotas at City Hall attracted about two
dozen protesters from the Downtown Eastside who were incredulous that
an application would even be considered given their terrible record of
ignoring city bylaws and regulations.

But two-thirds of Vancouver's cannabis shops continue to flout the
city's bylaw. Of the 94 operating, 63 are either being ticketed daily
or have injunctions filed against them.

Ironically, had the Sahotas simply opened their shop, they would have
found themselves in the company of others bent on frustrating the
efforts of civic politicians to regulate it.

Of course, the impetus to ignore city hall's bylaw is the pending
legalization of marijuana that the federal government has promised for
July 1, 2018, which holds the prospect of windfall profits for those
already open for business. The Sahotas seem to embody the "broken
windows" theory articulated by social scientists James Q. Wilson and
George L. Kelling in a 1982 article in Atlantic Monthly.

The theory is that bad behaviour begets bad behaviour, even if it
starts out with something as small as a broken window. And, if it's
not dealt with immediately, more windows are broken and eventually
disorder spirals out of control.

Vancouver needs to rein this in. If civic leaders need more tools to
deal with scofflaws, then they must do a better job of articulating
what they need both for the sake of citizens and for senior levels of

Because so far, Mayor Gregor Robertson and councillors have done
little beyond expressing dismay at what's happening and attempting to
shift the blame to others.
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