B.C. Civil Liberties supports class action against residential grow-op inspections. $5,200 fee although no marijuana found.



B.C. Civil Liberties supports class action against residential grow-op inspections in Mission
Some residents hit with $5,200 fee although no marijuana found
By Neal Hall, Vancouver SunMay 5, 2011
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is supporting a classaction lawsuit filed Wednesday against the district of Mission over residential inspections for suspected marijuana grow operations.

Mission's controversial Controlled Substances Property Bylaw has resulted in home owners being wrongfully charged with violations of the bylaw, even though no marijuana-growing operation was found in their residences.

"We have had dozens of complaints," said Micheal Vonn, policy director of the BCCLA. "The process is fundamentally unfair."

Mission suspended the bylaw last January after complaints from residents who were hit with hefty fines for small safety violations but did not have grow operations in their homes.

Resident Len Gratto, for example, was billed $5,200 for an inspection that found he was growing flowers and cucumbers in the basement of his Mission home.

Another resident, Stacy Gowanlock, was slapped with a $5,200 fee after his house was inspected in 2009. No marijuana plants were found. He is part of the proposed classaction lawsuit filed by Vancouver lawyer Alexander Markham-Zantvoort.

"The citizens of Mission have tried for years to get the district to properly review these decisions and fix this program," Gowanlock said. "It's clear the district is not moving on this, so we have to ask the courts to remedy the damage."

Some residents hit with $5,200 fines feel they have had their reputations ruined. At least one has lost their home after the bank learned of the violation enforcement by Mission, Vonn said.

"It goes on title and the property is devalued," Vonn explained Tuesday, adding some people have had trouble crossing into the U.S. because the bylaw violation becomes part of the person's criminal history.

"The fallout has been extremely serious," she said. "I can't tell you how many people have broken down crying because they have violated the bylaw but were innocent."

She said the bylaw is unfair because residents don't have any process of appeal.

"It's the imaginary grow-op bylaw," Vonn said.

She said the Mission bylaw is supposed to enforce safety inspections of homes and flows from the provincial Safety Standards Act, which allows hydro companies to disclose high users of electricity to municipalities.

"We've had long-standing concerns about the safety inspections themselves," Vonn said. "It's not about safety -it's about looking for drug operations."

Safety inspections were not supposed to be an "end-run" around the police need for a search warrant to look for a suspected drug operations, she said.

"These are very new programs and new areas of law," Vonn said.


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