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Revise grow-ops law

Toronto Star - October 11, 2004

Barely a week goes by without police discovering another indoor marijuana-growing operation somewhere in the province. Beyond being illegal, such "grow-ops" in houses, apartments and condominiums pose an increasing threat to public safety.

They are a fire hazard, fuel gang violence and fund organized crime. They also are a drain on Ontario's economy, stealing an estimated $80 million in electricity each year.

Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter said last week he wants to give local hydro utilities the authority to cut off electricity without notice to suspected grow-ops. Utilities are often the first to suspect the presence of grow-ops when they detect either telling spikes in energy use or abnormally low use, a sign an operator is bypassing the hydro meter.

While the government should take steps to curb the proliferation of grow houses, the proposed law would do little to accomplish that goal. Growers whose power has been cut would lose a crop but could set up shop again elsewhere.

More worrisome, the legislation places an inappropriate burden on local utilities whose job is to deliver electricity, not enforce drug laws.

The law also lacks accountability and would be open to error. Each utility would decide what is abnormal use. Unlike police probes, no warrant or judicial approval would be required for power to be cut.

Utilities should not be forced to do the job of the police. A better solution would be to allow them to report suspicious power usage to the authorities. But under recent federal privacy legislation, it is unclear whether they can legally inform on their customers.

Federal and provincial authorities must clarify and, if necessary, relax the privacy law to allow such reporting. And Monte Kwinter must go back to the drawing board.

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