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Thompson average for use of Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act

The manager of the Manitoba Department of Justice's Public Safety Investigations Unit says Thompson does not have a disproportionate number of complaints pursuant to the province's Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.

The manager of the Manitoba Department of Justice's Public Safety Investigations Unit says Thompson does not have a disproportionate number of complaints pursuant to the province's Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.

Mayor Tim Johnston had said earlier he believed Thompsonites had enthusiastically embraced the legislation, aimed at helping residents rid their neighbourhoods of drug dealers and other undesirable neighbours, suggesting the call volume from Thompson was the second highest in the province after Winnipeg.

While that may be technically true, as Thompson is the province's third-largest municipality, Al Cameron, manager of the 11-member unit, told council June 15 that he wouldn't say, "a disproportionate number of complaints are coming from Thompson."

In fact, over the last 16 months there have been about 23 complaints in total from Thompson, Cameron said, leading to six drug houses being closed. The legislation provides for a civil rather than criminal remedy to deal with "habitual" problems with drug houses, prostitution, sexual exploitation of minors and bootlegging "booze cans" in residential neighbourhoods, Cameron said. The key is the problem must be habitual and not just intermittent or occasional, he said.

The act received royal assent from the lieutenant governor on July 6, 2001 and enforcement began more than seven years ago in February 2002. However, it was only hailed as a new crime-fighting tool for Thompson in January 2008 when Tara Howse, a community development co-ordinator for the Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation (TNRC) began a public campaign to champion its use.

The preamble to the act reads: "Whereas the people of Manitoba want their communities and neighbourhoods to be safe and peaceful places to live and want to protect their communities and neighbourhoods from disruptive activities; and whereas activities incidental to certain uses of property disturb the lives of people in their communities and neighbourhoods, and the peace and safety of the communities and neighbourhoods themselves; and whereas the legislature of Manitoba has the authority to pass laws aimed at suppressing nuisances by civil process, suppressing conditions that favour the development of crime, and promoting peaceful and safe communities and neighbourhoods; therefore Her Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the legislative assembly of Manitoba, enacts as follows."

The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, which was the first of its kind in Canada, works by holding property owners accountable for threatening or disturbing activities that regularly take place on their property related to:

Unlawful drug use, dealing, production or cultivation; Prostitution and related activities; Unlawful sale of liquor; Unlawful use or sale of intoxicating substances - non-potable and solvent-based products; Sexual abuse or exploitation of a child or related activities; Possession or storage of an unlawful firearm, weapon or explosive.

The act refers to activities that are ongoing, not those happening occasionally.

Under the act, property can include a structure, business, house, apartment, suite, co-operative housing unit, mobile home or land on which there is no building.

The process starts when one or more residents of a neighbourhood who fear for their safety or security file a complaint.

The complaint is kept confidential. The identity of those who file it cannot be revealed at any time. The unit may launch an investigation. If there is evidence to support the claim, the unit has several options:

issue a warning letter to the property owner; resolve the problem out of court; apply for a community safety order, with or without a closure order against the property; apply for an emergency closure order

If the unit decides not to act on the complaint, the person or persons who made the complaint can take the matter to court at their own cost.

If either a community safety order or an emergency closure order are granted a notice and a copy of the order outlining conditions are posted on the property. At the same time, a copy of the order is served on the owner. It will order the owner to take steps to stop the problem and also bar tenants from continuing in specified activities. It may order some or all people to leave for a specific period of time if they have been involved in such activities. The tenancy agreement or lease of any tenant may also be terminated. The property may also be closed for up to 90 days.

In addition to Cameron, the Public Safety Investigations Unit includes a registrar, two analysts and seven investigators. They have received 2,291 complaints under the act in seven and a half years, he said. They have managed to close down 371 illegal operations, Cameron said, and have only had to go to the Court of Queen's Bench three times out of those 371 cases to seek a "community safety order" for a property.

During that same period, Cameron said, they've only dealt with "eight repeat drug traffickers."

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