Problem properties where unlawful, dangerous and threatening activities continually detract from neighbourhood safety and security will be targeted and may be shut down, under proposed legislation introduced recently.
"Local governments have a limited range of tools to effectively deal with problem properties, so we asked the Province to look at the existing legislation,” said Mary Sjostrom, Mayor of Quesnel and president of the Union of BC Municipalities. “The Community Safety Act would provide local governments with an additional tool to respond directly to residents' concerns - one that would be backed with additional powers to promote responsible property ownership and safe communities."
If passed, the Community Safety Act will enable people to submit confidential complaints to a new provincial unit charged with investigating, mediating and working with property owners to curb various threatening and dangerous activities. On substantiating a complaint, the unit will take steps to force the property owner to address identified issues. Where problems persist, the unit may apply in civil court for a community safety order, which may bar certain individuals from the property or close it for up to 90 days.
Similar legislation in force in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Yukon has seen most identified problems cease without court involvement; less than one per cent of complaints have led to an application for a community safety order.
* For safety reasons, the unit administering the Community Safety Act will treat all complaints as strictly confidential and will not disclose complainants' identities. Court actions initiated by the unit will disclose evidence secured by the unit's investigators; complainants will not be identified, quoted or called to testify.
* The unit will respect the Residential Tenancy Act in issuing any directives to property owners to deal with problem tenants. Any action impacting an owner's or tenant's use of their property will require the approval of a civil court justice.
* The unit's resources, structure, regulations and policies will be developed if the legislation passes. Government does not expect to set budget and timeline details until later in 2013.
BC's act will target the sites of specific criminal and nuisance activities, including drug production and trafficking, prostitution, unlawful liquor sales (i.e., illegal after-hours establishments and sales of liquor to minors), child abuse, possession of unlawful weapons or explosives, and activities conducted by or on behalf of gangs and organized crime.
"Obviously, we still want people to report criminal activity to the police. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, even if police do make arrests, problems just continue at a particular address,” said Shirley Bond, Minister of Justice and Attorney General. “This proposed legislation will fill a gap, enhancing public safety by forcing landlords to deal with chronic, illegal and dangerous behaviour on their properties."
Unlike criminal laws, the new civil legislation will target properties where the occupants may change frequently, but the problem activities persist, and the property owners fail to take effective action to stop them. The new unit will also differ from BC's Civil Forfeiture Office, which does not conduct investigations and acts on case referrals from police rather than reports from the public.The proposed Community Safety Act will be available at: www.leg.bc.ca/39th5th/votes/progress-of-bills.htm
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