Drug houses in Cowichan anger neighbours

After years of living in fear and anxiety, Sheila Sampson has had enough of an alleged drug house that is across the street

Bill Routley

Bill Routley

After years of living in fear and anxiety, Sheila Sampson has had enough of an alleged drug house that is across the street from her home on Parkside Place.

She said the traffic coming and going at the house in Duncan continues through the night and the disruptions to the peace in the neighbourhood are constant.

Sampson said police have been called to the house on several occasions, but the problems continue nonetheless.

Duncan’s Mark Olson also has issues with an alleged drug house on his street that has been running a generator, supposedly to grow marijuana, at all hours of the night that keeps the neighbours awake.

He also said police have been called to the house on numerous occasions, but the problems persist.

Drug houses are an ongoing problem in the Cowichan Valley, as they are in almost all jurisdictions across the province, and local police and municipalities have been struggling to keep up with the complaints.

Police officials from the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment have stated that they always respond to complaints, but law enforcement authorities simply don’t have the resources and manpower to constantly monitor such problem properties in their jurisdiction.

As well, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t allow police to just walk into people’s homes without a warrant other than in situations where they feel someone is in danger or there are other safety issues.

That means their options are often limited in dealing with alleged drug houses.

Municipalities also don’t have any authority to enforce criminal laws, including the growing, selling and use of drugs from homes in their jurisdictions.

They can enact nuisance bylaws, including ones for noise and unsightly premises, and they can act against the landlord if multiple complaints have been received and the landlord has not acted on repeated orders to deal with the infractions.

But financial fines are often the penalty in such cases and, if challenged, a $500 fine could lead to court costs to the municipality of up to $5,000, so many jurisdictions are often reluctant to pursue such cases.

David MacAlister, the director of the criminology department at Simon Fraser University, said there’s “no doubt” drug houses have become a problem in many jurisdictions across the province.

But he’s not convinced that more laws and enforcement are the solution.

“We’re at a stage where drug-use issues are being viewed as requiring more harm-reduction strategies than using measures from the war on drugs, which has been a costly failure, and the police sense this as well,” MacAlister said.

“At the same time, we’re in the middle of a fentanyl crisis. People are dying and drug dealers are exploiting users and making a lot of money. It’s difficult to see what the answer is right now.”

MacAlister said he thinks the best solution to the issue is the same as it has always been; have police do thorough investigations into each case, and seek a warrant when they have gathered sufficient evidence.

“Many people complain, but few want to stick their necks out,” he said.

“I would tell people to remember that it’s their community that they’re living in and they should help out police with enforcement on these issues whenever they can.”

Alistair MacGregor, NDP MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, agreed with MacAlister that the traditional “law and order” strategies of dealing with issues like drug houses have not worked in the long run.

He said police may be successful in clearing out individual drug houses, but it does little to solve the larger problem.

“There’s no easy answers,” he said.

“The lack of resources to deal with it has been raised before, and the new [Liberal] government have made some commitments. But we really need to look at why people take drugs in the first place. Police have a role in enforcing laws, but we need to see more societal supports established, like more counselling and treatment.”

Bill Routley, the NDP MLA for the Cowichan Valley, said his office receives frequent calls from people complaining about drug houses in their neighbourhoods.

“We hear the same things again and again,” he said.

“The police have no resources to deal properly with drug houses and, in regards to more laws and legislation, we have seen too many social issues swept away by the [provincial] government while it has been approving more corporate tax cuts.”

Routley said the province needs to act and come up with workable solutions to dealing with drug houses.

“Communities also need to step up and say they will not accept this as it stands,” he said.