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By Hempology | April 13, 2006

‘Public safety’ law will zap privacy, critics fear
Utilities would be forced to disclose how much electricity homes use

B.C.’s solicitor-general says he’s mindful of privacy concerns surrounding new legislation that gives municipalities the right to demand information from power companies about how much power homes are using.

The information would be used to weed out homes with grow-ops.

“There’s the challenge for us — on the one hand try as much as possible to respect individual privacy. On the other hand, do what we need to do to protect public safety,” said John Les.

The new measures are in amendments to the Safety Standards Act.

Municipalities that find high power consumption can have a notice posted on the property allowing an inspection within 48 hours by fire officials.

The legislation comes in the same week that an explosion in a million-dollar home in the British Properties blew out a wall and windows. It was linked to a grow-op inside.

The plan immediately drew concerns from the information and privacy commissioner for B.C. and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“People’s electricity consumption patterns are nobody’s business but their own, and if the government is going to want access to information, it will have to provide very particular justification for access,” said Murray Mollard, executive director of the civil liberties group.

David Loukidelis, the information commissioner, called for controls on how police might use the information, suggesting the legislation should only allow local governments to disclose information for safety inspections.

The NDP praised the measure.

Leonard Krog, critic for the attorney-general’s ministry, called the legislation a “good step for public safety” because of the risks of fires or explosions associated with grow-ops.

“I don’t think anyone living in a neighbourhood should have to be worried about whether the house next door is going to blow up or burn down because of illegal activity,” said Krog.

Len Garis, fire chief in Surrey and chairman of the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C., described the legislation as “a step in the right direction.”

“The end result is going to make our neighbourhoods much safer.”

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts called it an “effective tool” to fight grow-ops.

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