THUNDER BAY – The issue of gangs from southern Ontario bringing guns, illegal drugs and increased levels of violence to Thunder Bay has been ongoing. Thunder Bay Police Service has been making a number of arrests over the past year, as they seek to put a dent in this serious problem.
Off the record, police officers say that for every ten they arrest, another twenty arrive. The task is massive, and over the past months, police have even seen increased numbers of young, under the age of 18, gang members arriving in the city.
Thunder Bay seems awash in a sea of illegal drugs at times. Gangs are taking over homes and turning them into trap houses all over the city. Recently Thunder Bay Police officers shut down one of these homes and charged several people with being unlawfully in the dwelling.
Municipal Plan to Solve Problem
Thunder Bay City Councillor at Large Aldo Ruberto is seeking to get support from his fellow councillors for a resolution to have by-law officers be able to ticket trap houses for the nuisance they are causing in the neighbourhoods and thereby help solve the problem.
This move at the civic level would likely require a lot of changes in how by-law officers do their jobs. Extending their hours so they could be on duty into the evenings and on weekends would be required.
Additionally, Councillors would have to look at by-law officer safety. By-law officers headed to trap houses could be put at serious risk.
A Look West to a Provincial Solution
Alberta has provincial legislation in place to deal with the issues Councillor Ruberto is raising. Perhaps Ontario needs to look to the west for how the SCAN program works in that province.
This provincial law allows the Alberta Sheriff to lock up a repeat problem home for ninety days, blocking access to the structure to the owner, and or tenants.
The path forward for this solution will require changes at the provincial level.
In Alberta, Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) is a unit of the Alberta Sheriffs that helps keep communities safe by dealing with problem properties that are being used for specific illegal activity such as:
- drug trafficking
- child exploitation
- gang-related crime
Reporting suspicious properties through SCAN:
- improves community safety
- empowers citizens
- targets properties, not individuals
- holds property owners accountable for activities on their properties
How SCAN works
When community members report a suspicious property, SCAN investigators can:
- begin an investigation
- gather information
- issue a warning letter
- mediate the dispute
- work with the landlord to facilitate an eviction or resolution
- apply to the courts for a Community Safety Order that can:
- call for owners to meet a number of conditions, or
- allow the property to be closed for up to 90 days
- take any measures necessary to safely and effectively close the property
SCAN operates under the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) Act to target properties, not people.
Signs of illegal activity
If a property is being used for an illegal activity you may notice some common signs.
Seeing one of these signs doesn’t always mean illegal activity is going on, but if they happen often or together, a problem may exist.
Some common signs of illegal activity include:
- frequent visitors at all times of the day and night
- frequent late night activity
- extensive home security
- residents that are rarely seen, distant or secretive
- windows blackened or curtains always drawn
- neglected property and yard
- people repeatedly visiting the property who only go to the door for a short time
- residents who regularly meet vehicles near the property for a short time
- strange odours coming from the house or garbage
- garbage that contains numerous bottles and containers, particularly chemical containers
- putting garbage in a neighbour’s collection area
If there’s a suspicious property in your neighbourhood, don’t investigate it or approach its residents. You can safely and confidentially report a suspicious property through SCAN.
Does it Work?
Over the past year, NetNewsLedger has reported several times that the SCAN in Alberta has moved to lockdown homes on these community nuisances. The goal here is not just seizing the home, there is a number of efforts to bring a resolution to the problems first.
SCAN can work with a landlord to help evict problem tenants. They can work to increase enforcement.
This kind of provincial solution could work in Ontario.