Surrey, B.C., resident targeted by inspectors looking for marijuana grow-op
By Kathy Tomlinson
A B.C. man who raises tropical fish said his home and privacy were invaded when local enforcement agencies knocked on his door while looking for a marijuana grow operation, and then forced him to pay for an electrical inspection and upgrade his fish-tank operation.
“I felt violated,” said Mike Baynes, 67, from Surrey, B.C. “When they came in here and saw no grow-op, I think they should have said ‘I’m sorry Mike,’ and then turned around and walked out.”
Baynes is one of 128 Surrey residents who don’t have grow operations, but were nevertheless subjected to searches and electrical repair orders in recent months because they use a lot of hydro.
“I think that is an invasion of privacy,” he said. “I don’t think that the City of Surrey has anything to do with my hydro consumption.”
Seven B.C. municipalities, including Surrey, are registered with BC Hydro to get monthly lists of all customers who use more than three times the daily average amount of power.
Teams have police escort
Teams of electrical and fire inspectors then go out to the homes they suspect could be marijuana grow operations to conduct searches, with the RCMP standing by outside.
Residents first get a written notice that says if they don’t consent to a search within 48 hours, the team will seek a warrant.
“I heard a noise outside, and then when I went and looked I had this big yellow notice stuck on my door,” said Baynes. Because he wasn’t doing anything illegal, Baynes said he had no problem giving his permission. In hindsight, he said, he wishes he’d asked more questions.
“They come in, they look around, different guys wander around here and there and the electrical inspector comes in and he looks at the power bars under the aquariums and he says, ‘I don’t like those power bars on the floor,’” said Baynes.
“I misunderstood the system. I didn’t know that they had the powers to order a safety electrical inspection.”
$800 cost to resident
Baynes said he was ordered to hire an electrician to look at his 19 fish tanks, which cost him $800. He added it was cheaper than it could have been because as a retired electrician he did some of the work.
“I think [municipal inspectors] have to justify their existence,” Baynes said. “They turned around and said, ‘We can’t find [any grow op] but — just in case — slap. Do this. And some of the quotes I got [for electricians] were $3,000.”
The electrician who did the inspection confirmed Baynes did nothing wrong, but some of his wiring wasn’t up to code. Baynes then made some upgrades to his fish tanks, which he felt were unnecessary.
“I was picked on,” he said.
Statistics show, for the first time last year, more often than not the Surrey teams found no illegal grow-ops at homes they inspected. In 2011, they found 82 marijuana grow operations, but also issued 128 electrical repair notices to law-abiding residents like Baynes.
“When you don’t find anything — and you still look for a reason [to issue an order] — I call that harassment,” he said. “And I’m paying for that. I pay taxes here.”
Surrey fire Chief Len Garis told CBC News that since the program started in 2005, the teams have inspected 2,253 homes, of which 1,158 were confirmed as illegal grow operations. Those homeowners were fined between $2,300 and $3,600, Garis said.