HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ottawa Pays BC Lawyers Millions To Fight Drug War
Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jun 2000
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Authors: Chad Skelton and Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun


The federal government is spending millions of dollars to hire private
B.C.  law firms to prosecute the booming number of marijuana growers
arrested by police.

The Nanaimo firm of Hunter, Garrett, Lobay billed Ottawa more than any
other B.C. firm, filing more than $700,000 in legal fees the last
fiscal year.

Firm partner Shane Dennisson said growing operation cases represent
well over half of the firm's total work for Ottawa.

He said the number of such cases his firm has handled has "easily
doubled and possibly tripled" in the past three years.

Police across B.C. have stepped up their fight against marijuana
growing-operations in the past year. Several cities -- including
Surrey, Langley and Delta -- have "Green Team" units dedicated solely
to executing search warrants on suspected drug houses.

The number of growing-operation busts in the province jumped more than
40 per cent from 2,354 in 1998 to 3,331 in 1999.

Details of the fees given to Crown agents -- private firms hired by
Ottawa -- were published in a recent article in the Lawyer's Weekly by
Cristin Schmitz, based on material obtained under Access to
Information legislation.

The biggest bill submitted to Ottawa last year -- $3.8 million -- was
from a Chicago firm involved in litigation against U.S. tobacco
companies. Second and third were U.S. firms involved in trade
disputes. A Calgary firm defending the government against a suit
brought by a native band submitted the largest Canadian bill: $934,428.

Hunter, Garrett, Lobay was the fifth largest biller last year. Three
other B.C. firms made the top 10, based largely on marijuana
prosecutions.  They include:

- - $651,145 billed by Baker, Newby & Co. of Abbotsford.

- - $571,863 billed by Murchison, Thomson & Clarke of Surrey.

- - $549,690 billed by Michael Z. Galambos Law Corp. of Port Coquitlam.

"It's quite lucrative for these firms," said John Conroy, an
Abbotsford lawyer who has defended dozens of marijuana growers.

Bob Prior, director of federal prosecutions for B.C., said there is no
doubt the number of marijuana cases has gone up. "How much that has
actually cost -- I don't know."

Prior said the true costs of the police crackdown likely won't be
known for another year.

There is usually at least a three-or-four-month delay between an
arrest and trial, he said, and some firms wait several months to bill
the government. That means the cost of prosecuting those arrested in
the past year likely hasn't shown up yet on the government's tab.

He said it's not clear whether over-all costs will go up -- because
the increased attention police have been giving to marijuana growers
may mean there are fewer arrests in other areas, like street-level
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