News / Vancouver

Surrey fire chief has a 'cultural bias' against marijuana grow-ops, expert witness to testify

Surrey’s fire chief has a “cultural bias” against licensed marijuana grow-ops, which is why he wrongly concludes they are more dangerous than regular residences, an expert witness is expected to testify at a Vancouver court case.

Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis, an adjunct criminology professor at the University of the Fraser Valley and an expert witness for the federal government in a constitutional challenge of Canada’s medical marijuana laws, concluded there was a higher incidence of fires at homes with both illicit and legal marijuana grow-ops.

Garis will be called as a witness Monday when the case, which started two weeks ago, resumes in Federal Court in Vancouver.

John Conroy, the lawyer representing four people who have licences to grow medical marijuana, plans to call another fire expert to rebut Garis’ evidence.

In an affidavit filed in court, Tim Moen, who has a Masters degree from Royal Roads University and is the fire captain and battalion chief of Fort McMurray, Alberta, states that Garis has a “cultural confirmation bias” against marijuana grow-ops so only sees evidence to confirm that homes with grow-ops have a higher incidence of fire.

A fire might have started as a result of low-income residents doing renovations that don’t comply with fire or building codes, or because a house is old, but Garis “is likely never exposed to any information other than marijuana grow operations are the cause of a fire in question,” Moen said.

“I have reviewed the statistics provided in Mr. Garis’ report…and I disagree with his conclusion that licensed grow operations at residential properties have a higher incidence of fires than other residential properties,” Moen’s affidavit said.

Moen maintains homes with authorized medical marijuana grow sites have the same level of fire risk as other residences -- 0.24 per cent.

“In other words,” Moen added, “as of the end of 2013, 99.97 percent of licensed marijuana grow sites in B.C. had not experienced a fire since they had been set up.”

The Surrey fire chief has concluded that homes with marijuana grow-ops pose fire, electrical and mould hazards for residents, as well as for first responders and others visiting the residence.

Until last year, the federal government allowed medical marijuana users to grow their own pot or have a designated person to grow it for them.

But under Canada’s new Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), the government requires patients obtain their marijuana from federally approved commercial growers.

The judge, however, granted an injunction last year to allow the plaintiffs to continue growing their own until the case is decided.

The plaintiffs filed the proposed class-action lawsuit, claiming the new law unreasonably limits their Section 7 Charter rights, so patients should be allowed to continue growing their own strains of pot.

The case is expected to start hearing international marijuana law experts from the U.S., Israel and Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Tim Moen's affidavit is online here and the Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis' affidavit is here. The court case is online here.