By Carol Aun
Mission’s Public Safety Inspection Team operations have been deferred for at least a month, pending a program review, except for cases brought forward by RCMP.
Council also asked staff to hold current cases already charged the $5,200 inspection fee until after the review.
The PSIT inquiry will examine team member qualifications, public relations training and the successes and failures of the program. Council unanimously agreed on these actions after hearing from angry and vocal residents Monday evening.
Coun. Jenny Stevens brought the issue forward after hearing residents’ concerns.
More than 100 people packed council chambers and there was overflow seating just outside the doors Jan. 24. The issue and question period were moved up in the agenda after it was clear the crowd wouldn’t settle down and council would not be able to conduct regular business without interruptions. A couple of people voluntarily left after several outbursts and one gentleman was asked to leave after interrupting proceedings for an hour.
Stevens originally asked for PSIT operations to be suspended, but that was voted down 3-3 because the wording would involve legal and personnel issues; both matters, some councillors argued, should be dealt with in a closed meeting. The motion to review it in-camera was also defeated 3-3.
Council took a rare five-minute recess after the votes to discuss the matter with staff and returned with a new motion to defer.
“This will give us the opportunity to ask the questions we need to ask,” said Mayor James Atebe. “The bylaw needs a total review. We need to balance civil liberties and protect neighbourhoods.”
It also allows the community’s ire to cool and give everyone time to breathe, added Coun. Danny Plecas.
Council initially supported the bylaw in 2006 after listening to community concerns and now we’re hearing from the community again, said Coun. Paul Horn.
Speakers used question period to challenge council’s trust, share their experiences and speak about the potential class action lawsuit.
A man named Joel apologized for being rude early on in the meeting and told council, “It’s not your fault, but it’s for you to repair. People in charge of inspections, I think they’re taking it personally and they’re dragging you down … I think the inspectors have to be closely watched. Everyone I have talked to has been bullied.”
In some cases, there isn’t even proof of a grow op but the homeowners are disrespected, he added.
“My $5,200 is in your coffers,” said Brian Fairfax, who remortgaged his house to pay the fine. “I want a criteria you use to hire people that come around. The ones that came to my house were rude and condescending. If they represent Mission, you should be ashamed.”
One of the reoccurring complaints were residents were treated like criminals and charged a hefty fine without an opportunity to prove their innocence or challenge PSIT’s findings.
“What’s the point of delegations to council if not one fee has been overturned?” asked Len Gratto.
“You took my children away from me,” said an emotional Trish Banfield, whose home was inspected two years ago.
Inspectors only found a gas pipe missing a cap and five missing electrical covers, she charged. Because of those findings, a do not occupy order was placed on her home and her children were not allowed to stay with her.
In the end it appeared council was surprised at what they heard.
Coun. Heather Stewart said she knows one person who had offered a similar complaint, and now she’s heard that multiply.
“The law had too much power in one place,” she said. “Power can corrupt and we need safeguards.”
Horn also offered an apology to people negatively affected by the bylaw.
“Some people are hurt and I am sorry … It was never the intention to hurt people. We need to bring [the bylaw] back in line and if we can’t do it, we should scrap it and move on.”