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Violation of family’s privacy cannot be tolerated in a free society

By Hempology | February 18, 2008

Richmond News, BC
15 Feb 2008


City Council Candidate Wants Better Protection For Homeowners’ Rights

Debate and controversy continue to swirl around the city’s electrical inspection program.

City council candidate Howard Jampolsky said if elected he would introduce changes to Richmond’s Property Maintenance & Repair ( Grow-Op ) Bylaw that will give authorities broad powers in combating the cultivation of marijuana and other illegal substances, while protecting the right to privacy of law abiding citizens.

Jampolsky said he would introduce changes to the bylaw that would include someone, possibly the chief administrative officer of the city, signing off on each search prompted by a high hydro bill. 

“The recent violation of privacy the Jensen family faced at the hands of the authorities cannot be tolerated in a free society.

“The police and fire departments must have more than an expensive Hydro bill before they go bursting into the homes of honest, hardworking Richmond residents,” Jampolsky said.

“I don’t think a hydro bill is the equivalent of a search warrant.”

Last week, the Richmond News reported Lee and Fay Jensen were subjected to a search of their home by the RCMP and city officials under the inspection program.

The bylaw is aimed at addressing hazards resulting from the rewiring that is often done to power marijuana grow operations.

After news stories and a spate of letters to the editor, Richmond city councillors reviewed the procedures surrounding the bylaw at Tuesday’s community safety meeting.

No changes were made, however councillors did question the Fire-Rescue and Police representatives at the meeting.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he was satisfied with the answers received at the meeting.

“We clarified that the nature of the searches that are being done is a matter of safety,” Brodie said.  “Looking at the surges and the known risks that are presented when you have a surge in electricity and dealing with them, yes, I’m satisfied.”

Evelina Halsey-Brandt, chair of the community safety committee, asked Fire-Rescue deputy chief Kim Howell how many complaints had been received from residents.

Howell said that of 126 inspections, in 64 there was no evidence of a grow-op.

“We haven’t had a lot of complaints once we explain to the residents why we are there,” Howell said.  “It truly is a safety issue, it’s making the community safer.”

Acting fire chief Geoff Lake said the fire inspector goes in and the police are there for the safety of the fire inspectors.

A monthly $200 electrical bill triggered the Jensen’s Jan.  30 inspection, which did not find a grow-op.

The family said the inspectors were aggressive during the search and that they were scared and embarrassed by the search.

The inspections are voluntary, but if a resident does not respond within 48 hours to a notice left at their door to book an inspection, their power could be cut off.

“We have not, so far, run into that,” Lake said.  “So far everyone has called to schedule an inspection.”

Jampolsky would also propose changes that would automatically waive the potential inspection fee and provide the residents with the reasons for the search if nothing suspicious is found during the inspection.

“I think it’s fantastic that we’re trying to crack down on grow-ops,” Jampolsky said.  “But we also have to make sure that the rights of citizens are protected.”

Brodie said council would listen if residents were making complaints.

“If the inspections are not being conducted in a manner that is satisfactory, we’d be prepared to make some changes,” Brodie said.  “But given the risks that have been identified, I think it’s a matter of community safety that we follow up.”

On a related topic, the safety committee also reviewed the rental property inspection bylaw that requires landlords to inspect their properties every 90 days.

This review was prompted by the recent acquittal of former realtor Albert Luk, whose tenants had set up drug labs in two of his properties.

The committee determined that to do inspections any more often than every 90 days would be onerous on landlords and an invasion of the tenants’ privacy.

Luk said 90-day checks for landlords are only good for detecting grow-ops.

“A drug lab can be set up and dismantled within days and it could be set up in a small apartment as well.  Landlords should inspect the properties once a month when rentals are collected,” Luk told the News.  “It is inconvenient and expensive to pay extra for property management but it is just a small deductible expense comparing to the value appreciation of the properties.

Otherwise the bylaw simply defeats its purpose.  If a lab is busted the landlord says he checked it 2 months ago he is off the hook.”

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