A controversial municipal bylaw that allows inspectors to barge into homes in the Vancouver suburb of Mission, looking for indoor marijuara grow operations, based on unusually high hydro usage has been put on the side burner for one month following a raucous meeting Monday night.
Mission city council decided to halt the inspections in order to conduct a review that will consider research into experiences in other municipalities, consultation with independent researchers and possibly public hearings, councillor Jenny Stevens said Tuesday morning. If the review is not completed within a month, council will consider extending the suspension.
The municipality will continue to respond to requests from police to go into homes that may be grow-ops. Ms. Stevens estimated approximately one-quarter of the inspections have been at the request of police.
Three out of four inspections have been as a result of reports from B.C. Hydro of abnormal hydro use. Hydro does not participate in the grow-op inspections but come to the homes to disconnect power if ordered by a municipal safety inspector. Also Hydro does not decide which homes to inspect but responds to a municipal request to provide a list of homes that use more than 93 KWh, which is considered to be abnormally high usage.
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 has said 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.
An application for a class-action lawsuit in response to the municipal safety-inspection bylaws is expected to go ahead, regardless of whether the Mission bylaw is reversed. 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.
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.