HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Privacy Legislation Impedes Pot Battle, Crime Summit
Pubdate: Sat, 06 Mar 2004
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A13
Copyright: 2004, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jonathan Fowlie


Current Laws Limit Communication Between Police, Private Sector

Overrestrictive privacy laws are preventing corporate Ontario from helping 
police and governments in their fight against marijuana grow operations, a 
two-day summit organized by the province has heard.

"Changes in legislation are required for us to be able to pass information 
through to police, and for proper search warrants to be taken out," John 
Sanderson, president of Aurora Hydro Connections Ltd., said at the 
conclusion of the Green Tide Summit yesterday.

He argued that current legislation severely limits what electricity 
companies can tell police, even though abnormally high levels of power 
consumption often reveal where illegal grow operations are located.

More than 160 delegates from the private sector, police organizations and 
all three levels of government met in Toronto this week to determine ways 
to better prevent and detect grow operations across the province.

Calling it an "unprecedented" response to the issue, Ean Algar, president 
of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said yesterday he is "very 
excited" about the changes he believes will be made as a result of the 

"It's not just the police that are struggling here. It is other agencies 
that have been impacted as well, and there is an element of co-operation 
I've never seen before."

He said marijuana grow houses are a serious problem not only because they 
pose a fire and safety hazard, but also because of their association with 
organized crime.

"The marijuana grow ops are feeding a sinister cross-border exchange 
between organized crime in this country and in the United States, and that 
is fuelling the importing of cocaine, heroine, ecstasy and other dangerous 
drugs into Ontario," Mr. Algar said.

"They also bring in guns that are the root of escalating violence that we 
are seeing on the streets of Toronto and other cities throughout this 

Police have said that almost half of the guns used in Toronto are smuggled 
across the border from the United States. They have blamed gangs protecting 
their turf in the growing drug war for much of the recent gunplay in the city.

"[Marijuana] is a high-priced commodity; people fight to protect it," Staff 
Inspector Gary Ellis, head of the city's homicide squad, said in a recent 

The summit brought together a variety of leaders from the private sector, 
many of whom agreed on the need for greater sharing of information with 
police and governments.

Ian Smith, a representative from the Ontario Real Estate Association, said 
he would like to see privacy legislation changed so that police can tell 
real-estate agents whether a house used to be a marijuana grow operation -- 
a practice prohibited under current law.

Mr. Smith said his organization also hopes to draw up new contracts that 
would provide home buyers with official avenues of recourse should they 
purchase a house with hidden structural and electrical problems from a grow 

Officials from the insurance industry also indicated their desire to see 
privacy legislation changed so that they can get more information from 
police and fire officials when determining whether a fire or explosion was 
the result of growing operation. Many insurers refuse to cover damages that 
result directly from illegal drug operations.

Mr. Smith also said his organization would ask real-estate agents to report 
to police any clients who appear to be looking for a property to start a 
grow house. Typical warning signs include people who pay a deposit in cash, 
as well as "individuals who are more interested in a basement of a house 
than they are the bedrooms."

Mr. Algar said other ideas discussed include lobbying lawmakers for tougher 
penalties for those found guilty of operating a grow house, amending the 
Electricity Act to allow for easier enforcement, and improved 
communications with the public about what can be done to help police in the 
battle against the illegal drug trade.
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