Mission faces class action lawsuit

The District of Mission is facing a class action lawsuit launched by local residents who  believe their rights were violated when their properties were inspected by the Public Safety Inspection Team (PSIT).

The announcement was made by B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), who is supporting residents, Wednesday morning in Vancouver after The Record’s deadline.

Micheal Vonn, policy director for BCCLA, hopes the legal action will provide compensation for those hurt by the program, and help protect people’s rights in all municipalities with similar bylaws.

It’s an important area of the law to shape because the programs are new, said Vonn, adding outsourcing police work to safety inspectors continues to be controversial. BCCLA has had concerns about municipalities using BC Hydro data to determine unusually high power consumption to target homes for inspection since the legislation was introduced by the provincial government in 2006.

People who have had their homes searched for a marijuana grow operation reported being intimidated and abused by the PSIT members and their reputations in their neighbourhoods have been tainted, said Vonn.

“People have lost their house, lost their job, and can’t get across the border,” Vonn noted the findings aren’t just registered on land titles, police are also recording it in their databases.

Vonn has studied some of the evidence against homeowners and believes, based on findings such as potting soil in the house and mould, almost every home in the region would violate the district’s controlled substance property bylaw.

BCCLA, which was an intervenor in a similar Surrey case, became involved with the local action after Vonn spoke on the radio about programs like PSIT. Vonn called the $5,200 inspection fee ludicrous and was inundated with phone calls from Mission residents shortly afterwards.

It’s not plausible to charge a homeowner that much on a cost recovery basis, Vonn insisted.

But what really caught BCCLA’s attention was the lack of a process review. When residents challenged the findings, the district simply asked the inspectors to confirm the result, she charged.

“This isn’t a review process. It’s an administrative process … and you’re still required to apply rules of fairness.”

People have a right to know the case against them and have it reviewed properly.

“[The district] says it’s doing it for safety purposes, but you don’t do it by taking away [other people’s] rights.”

Vonn has been forwarding dozens of calls to lawyer Alexander Markham-Zantvoort, who filed the class action lawsuit Wednesday, but couldn’t provide an exact number as to how many people have joined.

Markham-Zantvoort could not be reached for comment by press time.

District of Mission halted all PSIT-led inspections in January of this year, and is currently reviewing the controversial bylaw.

The district doesn’t offer comments on matters before the courts, said Mayor James Atebe. However, he noted Mission’s bylaws serve the community and they are challenged from time to time.

It’s within people’s democratic right to do so, and when that happens, the district will have to “follow the laws of the country to defend the interests of the community as best we can,” said Atebe.