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Fortis,Hydro ready to target grow ops

By Hempology | August 14, 2006

207327daysskunk.jpg Authorities in the Okanagan are stream-lining a process for taking down residential marijuana grow operations while ostensibly investigating theft of electricity.

Power companies such as FortisBC and BC Hydro have long been complainants in marijuana grow cases before the courts.

Charges of theft of electricity under the Criminal Code of Canada often accompanies the drugs charges on the indictment.

Now, those companies have hired their own policemen, or “power theft experts” as FortisBC calls them.

They have law enforcement backgrounds and they follow tips to confirm power theft, then report the theft to the RCMP.

But Natika Sunstrum said if police find anything else at the homes or businesses such as marijuana grow operations, that is of little interest to the power company.

“We prefer to focus on the issue of power theft itself,” Sunstrum said.

“We all pay for power theft, all customers pay for the co st of power ( that is stolen ) so from a rate payer perspective we think it is important to follow up.”

In an insert accompanying bills in the mail this month, FortisBC steers quite clear of the marijuana issue.

“Electricity is diverted for various reasons, including powering hot tubs, swimming pools, air conditioners and more,” the insert reads.

When the company operated as Aquila Networks Canada, it represented itself on many marijuana drug cases.

A spokesman said in 2004 that the company lost an estimated $300,000 to $500,000 in sales alone due to marijuana grow operations and stolen power adds about 1.5 per cent more to every customer’s bill.

Safety is another issue with the risk of fires and electrocution for those performing the hydro bypass operation or fire fighters or police who clean up afterward.

FortisBC is also working with Central Okanagan Crime Stoppers to get direct access to its anonymous tips, including those for marijuana grow operations.

Crime Stoppers director Bruce Baron says lawyers for the two organizations are working on an agreement to protect the integrity of the anonymous tips line. Once it is agreed, Fortis would be the only other organization outside of the RCMP ( and possibly ICBC ) with access to tip files, Baron says.

Police and the power companies have been working together for a long time to detect and shut down grow operations and power thieves, but this new scheme goes further than ever.

Under current practices, anonymous public tips informing on marijuana grow operations aren’t nearly enough for police to get a search warrant. They require surveillance and observation and actual evidence that the grow operation is inside before they can establish “reasonable and probable cause” to enter a private citizen’s home. But it’s not so hard to get a warrant for theft. Especially not if a power theft expert, one who could testify in court if required, had already been to the home and determined that a theft had occurred.

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