This could be the start of some thing Big . If you remember Niagara Falls destroyed over a couple of Grow houses last week . I few more like that and some strong punishement might just get some attention and might slow down some of these Gro Ops.
Dec 3, 2006 8:45:00 AM MST
Ontario‘s new Fire Marshal expected to have impact on grow ops across province (Ont-New-Fire-Marshal)
TORONTO (CP) _ As fire chief in the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario‘s new Fire Marshal garnered a reputation for helping police tear down marijuana grow operations through his aggressive approach to fire prevention.
Although he says he is taking aim at fire hazards, not drugs, Patrick Burke is expected to have an impact on grow ops and drug labs across the province when he steps into the provincial role today.
“All we‘re interested in is the correction and prosecution of blatant fire code violations,‘‘ says Burke, who served with the Windsor fire department for 34 years before becoming chief in Niagara Falls in 2002.
“We do that with every life-safety issue in Niagara Falls.‘‘
Since adopting a “zero tolerance‘‘ approach to fire safety several years ago, Burke says the Niagara Falls fire department has levied some $1.5 million in fines under the Fire Prevention and Protection Act.
That‘s in addition to any Criminal Code charges laid by police.
While not all the fines pertain to grow ops or clandestine drug labs, Niagara Falls fire fighters have helped dismantle more than 100 such operations in the last 2 1/2 years.
A serious fire risk as a result of the chemicals, heat lamps and elaborate hydro bypass schemes involved, grow ops also pose a health and safety risk to neighbours and the enforcement officials who enter them, says Burke.
“It wouldn‘t matter to me if they were growing marijuana or tomatoes. If they bypass hydro and they‘re not complying with all of the requirements of the (fire) code, than we‘re going to act,‘‘ he says.
And since the Act was amended last year to specifically target marijuana grow houses, the penalties have doubled.
Individuals can now face fines of up to $50,000, a year in jail, or both, while corporations could be on the hook for $100,000.
As far as Burke is concerned, the charges shouldn‘t be directed only at those producing the drugs. Landlords, superintendents and property management companies all share the blame.
“They have a responsibility to know what‘s going on on the premises,‘‘ he says.
Given the short jail sentences pot growers often receive, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police president Terry McLaren says the large fines doled out as a result of Niagara‘s commitment to uphold the province‘s building and fire codes could also prove to be a deterrent.
“Sometimes they have a lot more teeth than the law does related to grow houses,‘‘ McLaren said.
Over the last eight months, Niagara Falls fire fighters have also taken advantage of recent amendments to the Municipal Act and posted some 70 “hazardous occupancy‘‘ and “no occupancy‘‘ orders on residences used as marijuana grow ops.
“(It‘s) so nobody can go in them and throw a quick paint job and lease them or sell them,‘‘ says Burke.
The modest father and grandfather, who also holds a law degree and was recently named president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, will admit that Niagara has become an authority on the subject of dismantling grow ops and prosecuting offenders under fire legislation.
The city hosted a nationwide seminar on marijuana grow operations, while local fire prevention officers are often called upon to educate justices of the peace and prosecutors on the matter.
“Niagara is one of the leaders in the country in dealing with this problem,‘‘ Burke says. “The interest level has been peaked and it‘s a bit of a byproduct of what‘s going on with the wave of marijuana grow operations that are setting up in the province.‘‘
An exceptionally large recent bust in Toronto has again brought the subject to the attention of Ontario legislators.
The discovery of a massive grow house spread through 22 apartments in a Toronto highrise, prompted Opposition Leader John Tory to call on the government to establish a provincewide directory of homes used to grow pot.
He highlighted the Toronto case, in which the superintendent was among three men charged criminally, as an example of the lax standards of some landlords and building managers.
Burke says anything that will increase public awareness and safety is a good thing.
Bob Wright, an inspector with the Niagara Regional police, says Burke‘s grow op savvy was a huge boon to the region and he expects the province will benefit from his knowledge.
“We thought Chief Burke‘s work with using the code to deal with the grow ops was a blessing,‘‘ he says.
But Wright says Burke will bring a whole lot more than just his knowledge of marijuana grow ops to the position.
During his brief tenure in Niagara Falls, Write says Burke spearheaded the region‘s Chemical Biological Radioactive Nuclear response team and proved a true diplomat when it came to managing 12 fire departments.
As Ontario Fire Marshal, Burke will be required to work with municipal fire departments across the province on matters of public education, fire prevention and protection, and fire fighter training and investigation. He will also advise the province on standards and legislation related to fire prevention and protection and make recommendations to improve safety.