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Warrants needed to search suspected grow-ops, court rules Add to ...

B.C.'s highest court has rejected a law designed to help municipal authorities crack down on urban marijuana cultivation, saying warrants are needed to conduct safety inspections of power-hungry homes suspected of being grow-ops.

The provincial government introduced changes to the Safety Standards Act in 2006 to allow fire safety inspectors to enter a home, without a police warrant, to check for grow-ops. On Thursday the Court of Appeal for British Columbia ruled that the practice violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that warrants will be needed.

The law was challenged by two residents of Surrey, Jason Cyrus Arkinstall and Jennifer Aline Green, backed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. The couple refused to let safety inspectors enter their home without a warrant unless they left their police escort outside.

The couple and their young child lived in a 6,800-square-foot home that had an indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, greenhouse and central air conditioning.

Their unusually high electricity consumption made civic officials suspect a grow-op. When the couple refused to allow inspectors enter their home in the company of RCMP officers, BC Hydro disconnected their power, forcing the family to move into a hotel.

Ms. Green said the home was never used as a grow-op. Thursday's ruling cites no contrary evidence.

Grace Pastine, litigation director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said her organization was always concerned about the law but most of the thousands of homeowners who have been subjected to inspections have not complained. In Surrey alone, 1,000 homes have been targeted.

"It took a citizen standing up for their rights and saying, this simply isn't okay," Ms. Pastine said.

"We see this case as a great victory for British Columbians, and Canadians. There are municipalities all over the country that are enacting or considering similar legislation. ... It's a clear violation of Charter rights."

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