Run-of-the mill local-government fire inspections should not be turned into home invasions, so as to evade the legal requirements for search warrants. Ten municipalities in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia have recently resorted to bylaws as an almost random method of cracking down on marijuana-growing operations. As a result, innocent homeowners have been inflicted with oppressive four-figure fees; some have had mortgage applications refused, and their names have been flagged as security risks at the U.S. border.
Port Coquitlam and Langley are having second thoughts. The Mission, B.C., city council has belatedly placed a one-month moratorium on these raids, but Mission's Controlled Substance Property Bylaw should simply be repealed. Its very name is telling. These inspections originally arose from a reasonable concern that a household's abnormally high electricity usage might point to a fire hazard - of course it could also signify, for example, a Jacuzzi left running for a long time.
Mission already had a sensible enough fire-prevention bylaw, but the concern of the new, offending bylaw with "controlled substance properties" and "clandestine drug labs" is plain on its face. It institutes "public safety inspection teams" - not only a routine fire inspector, but also an electrician and a building inspector and - last but not least - an RCMP officer out at the curb waiting to leap into action.
The law should be enforced against grow-ops, but there are other ways to detect their presence than large electricity bills. The Criminal Code sets a standard for the issuance of search warrants: reasonable grounds for suspicion. The attempt to get around this by way of municipal bylaws is causing grave inconvenience to householders and is a violation of a long-established right.
The Charter right to be free from unreasonable search descends from a 1604 judgment in which Sir Edward Coke wrote, "The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose." People who are extravagant with landscape lighting or home appliances should not be arbitrarily treated as criminal suspects. This practice is a peculiar, small-minded, but outrageous Canadian twist on the war against drugs.
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