Mission City Councillor Jenny Stevens has received calls from people in tears after their homes were raided by hydro workers and safety inspectors looking for fire hazards from marijuana grow operations.
She has heard from homeowners who say they are moving out of Mission after failing to convince neighbours that a high-profile raid on their property was a mistake and they were not involved in the drug trade. She has received inquiries from older residents who fear that their homes may be next on a list they do not understand.
Ms. Stevens voted in 2009 in favour of a bylaw that enables safety inspectors to go into the homes.
But now she is convinced the bylaw must be scrapped and council should reconsider how it responds to the problem of marijuana grow-ops in the municipality.
"It's time to tear it up, start again and do it properly," Ms. Stevens said Thursday in an interview. She has served notice that she intends to look for support of the mayor and fellow councillors at a meeting on Monday.
Mission is one of 10 municipalities in Metro Vancouver with bylaws that enable safety inspectors to enter homes based on hydro reports of abnormal energy consumption. Municipal employees in Metro Vancouver conducted 3,528 inspections between 2005 and 2009, but safety violations were found in only 2,311 homes. The number of grow-ops was not available.
Ms. Stevens called for a change in the criteria for inspecting a home, saying statistics as of late December showed that about half of the raids conducted by Mission municipal staff were of homes without grow-ops or even faulty wiring. She also expressed concern about the fee of $5,200 charged to cover the cost of the inspection.
Mission would not be the only municipality to backtrack. Port Coquitlam is expected to reconsider its safety inspection bylaw next month. Langley Township is no longer enforcing its bylaw, although it remains on the books.
An application for a class-action lawsuit in response to the municipal safety-inspection bylaws will likely go ahead even if municipalities revise them, Mission resident Stacy Gowanlock said. A safety inspection of his home found faulty wiring for his hot tub, but did not uncover a grow op. Mr. Gowanlock was charged the $5,200 inspection fee.
"We've been ... trying to talk to the city for 14 months. There are other people involved who have been trying to talk to [the city]for two years now. … It's too late," he said.
B.C. Civil Liberties Association lawyer Michael Vonn said she has been told that more than 70 people are prepared to participate in a class-action lawsuit. A change in the bylaw would be "fantastic" for Mission residents, she said, but a new bylaw would not remedy damages for those whose homes have been raided over the past two years.
B.C. Hydro has said that the homes are selected based on statistics on abnormal energy consumption. The RCMP says grow-ops often use abnormally high amounts of hydro and pose fire hazards. Some critics say the inspections are a substitute for police raids, which require a court-approved search warrant.
However, many of the homeowners who were inadvertently caught in the attempt to crack down on grow-ops say they were doing nothing more than running their hot tubs, baseboard heaters or air-conditioning units.
Municipalities using the inspection process in Metro Vancouver include Surrey, Richmond, Coquitlam, Langley, Langley City, Abbotsford, Pitt Meadows, Chilliwack and Port Coquitlam in addition to Mission.
With report from Evan Duggan
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