Thursday, February 05, 2009

SCAN: Split Communities and Neighbourhoods?

Via Blogawa, I saw a post by A. on Please Pick-Up Your Socks that there would be a meeting about Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods ("SCAN") legislation, which is being proposed in Ontario by our local MPP, Yasir Naqvi. The meeting was held tonight (Thursday, February 5, 2009) at the Ottawa Public Library main branch.

The event was organized by a group called People Against SCAN (PeopleAgainstSCAN.com), and consisted of a panel of five speakers, including Naqvi, Cheri DiNovo (NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park; Naqvi and DiNovo pictured below), Yutaka Dirks (Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator, Advocacy Centre for Tenants - Ontario), Anne Levesque (Lawyer, Clinique juridique francophone de l'est d'Ottawa), and Tara Lyons (Executive Director, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy).

Kudos are in order for Mr. Naqvi coming out to an event organized by a group whose sole purpose is to oppose legislation he is sponsoring, and also for being willing to meet with many of the individuals and groups represented at the meeting who oppose his bill. But just showing up won't win my support.

Before the event, I had a chance to read over some information about the Orwellian-titled SCAN bill on the People Against SCAN's website, particularly This memo detailing areas of concern of the bill. Looking through that document was frightening. The mere fact that a tenant can be evicted without having a right to properly defend themselves (as is the case with SCAN legislation in other jurisdictions) is enough for me to oppose it outright. I don't care what your bill is designed to do, if it skirts due process, I oppose it--didn't we learn that already with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales?

There were definitely a decent representation of people at the meeting in favour of the legislation. Most cited chronic crack houses as the problem they want this legislation to solve--houses where illegal activity takes place (even though the reach of the bill goes beyond criminal activity)--but I am not convinced, as they are, that this legislation will actually solve their problems. So you shut down a house filled with crack addicts. They're not all of a sudden going to get un-addicted because they were evicted.

Moreover, even if it were to solve the problems cited by its proponents in the audience, SCAN would impact others in the community in ways that don't seem to concern the proponents.

You can download a PDF of the bill here and see for yourself what it says.

One section that was raised as a concern was section 20. Section 20 starts out by saying that the municipally-appointed Director of Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods must make a "reasonable effort" to make sure that evicted residents have alternate accommodation. Now, I don't like ambiguous words like "reasonable" to begin with, but the section continues to say that it "does not apply to a resident who the Director reasonably believes caused or contributed to any of the activities in respect of which the order that requires the residents to leave was made."

So once the eviction takes place, the Director can let them go out in the cold so long as the Director "reasonably believes" that the people caused or contributed to activities which triggered the SCAN legislation--activities which don't have to be illegal, simply which "adversely affect" the neighbourhood--such as sniffing glue or gasoline in one's home (read the law--it actually mentions glue!).

The bill has passed second reading, but is in committee and will likely not survive there, which is a good thing in a way.

But in another way, it's a pity, because the community members who wanted SCAN wanted it because there were problems in their community and they're banking on it getting passed. But they asked for legislation that does far more than is reasonable, and as such it will get shot down and these community members will be back at square one with no resolution to their legitimate problems.



On my way home from the meeting, I came across a car whose alarm was going off. This was pretty late at night, and the streets were empty. As someone who is concerned about his neighbourhood, I felt compelled to do something about it. My cell phone's battery had run out (grr... stupid thing won't even last one full day and it's less than a year old...), so my initial reaction to phone Bylaw to make a noise complaint was not an option. But a dead cellphone battery wasn't going to stop me.

I started by leaving a note on the windshield wiper, which read "If you're not going to respond to your car alarm going off, then TURN IT THE FUCK OFF!!! (P.S. Your radio is still on)"

After leaving this note under the windshield wiper, I took down the plate number, time and location on my notepad so I could report it when I got home if I felt like it. But as I was writing it, a man walked up to the car. I established that he was the owner, and told him that the car alarm was going off, even if I just walk in front of the car.

And the guy was genuinely concerned. He was concerned about his car alarm being oversensitive, he was concerned about the disruption this caused, and he was concerned that there was probably something wrong with his car's electronics system causing this. He said he would take it in the next day and get a loaner while it is fixed, and I think he even said something about disconnecting the battery so it wouldn't bother any more people tonight.

I snatched my note off his windshield and crumpled it into my pocket, and instead wished him a good night, as he went into his car to troubleshoot the problem.

I felt good about that experience, because I dealt with the problem myself without relying on a government to intervene because of my anonymous (to the driver) complaint. In fact, I am probably more anonymous for having confronted him in person than by reporting it to Bylaw.



At the meeting about SCAN, a number of times opponents said to proponents that they should try to talk to the problem tenants. Frankly, I cringed when they said this, and some people said they already tried dealing directly with the people to no avail. If I had a biker gang next door dealing drugs and guns, I sure as hell won't knock on the door and--hell, I'd avoid drawing attention to myself as much as possible!

But the incident with the car alarm really brought it home that there are people out there who are willing to respond to your concerns in a civil manner. We live in a society where we want to respond to problems with anger and punishment, but sometimes all you have to do is ask politely.

- RG>

6 comments:

A. & J. said...

I'm a landlord and live under the same roof as my tenants. I want SCAN to be in place, so that I never feel threatened living in my own home. To live under the same roof as a drug dealer, is not my idea of fun and you can not convince me that I should go and talk to them and try and help them. I want SCAN to happen so that I can get myself out of a situation like this, before it starts. At this time, we’ve been very lucky and choose our tenants wisely. By having a program like this, for us, helps us make everyone in our house feel comfortable and safe.

RealGrouchy said...

The purpose of SCAN is to deal with problem landlords (or homeowners) who do not deal with problems on their property.

If you are a live-in landlord and you are worried about problem tenants in your apartment, SCAN is not the legislation for you, unless you want to get evicted, too.

- RG>

A said...

As I mentioned in my original post I unfortunately was unable to attend the meeting last night. If you were able to draw the conclusions above I suspect the meeting, if nothing else, was productive.

I think the problem is that currently landlords do not have efficient means to evict somebody partaking in illegal activities.

Step 1 is to apply for a hearing with the LTB, if you don't present a third party witness this will likely be a waste of time.

Step 2 is to serve the tenant with a 20 day notice of eviction. Picture a situation where the landlord lives in the building and the third party witness was likely another tenant. You have to share a roof with the evictee for 20 days.

Let’s take into consideration the type of lifestyle this person was living, at 20 days what are the chances the person will actually leave? It's a gamble IMO. If they don't? You cannot lock them out, you have to apply to the Sheriff's office to remove the tenant, and the landlord foots the bill.

It's an exhaustive process for something very cut and dry. You bring illegal substances or activities into my building? That should be the ticket out. My priority is the safety of my other tenants (as I'm responsible for it), the safety of my partner, the safety of my community of course for myself personally.

There are some pretty sad situations out there, and I understand the opposition to SCAN. Nobody wants to throw people out on the streets, but having the choice of doing that or having a criminal risking the safety of the groups above; The choice is clear to me.

I absolutely agree with you that there are not enough “asking politely” people and too many “enforcement” people - I preach that regularly. However, I think you’ve got to use your head in making the judgement on when to use which. In a case where there’s illegal activity threatening the well being of others a certain line is crossed and as you mentioned I will not be approaching Mr. Gangster slinging guns out of my Unit #3.

RealGrouchy said...

I'm not suggesting that you should go knock on a crackhouse door with a plate of muffins and ask them politely to stop--perhaps you didn't catch the part where I said I cringed every time they said this at the meeting.

But the organizers of the meeting said that there are ways to get problem tenants evicted in ten days--and even less, in some cases. I do not know what these means are, but I encourage you to contact them to find out. There may also be information on their website about it, I'm not sure, I have to head to work now otherwise I'd look it up.

I'm also concerned that you seem to want SCAN in case you might encounter such a problem-tenant situation in the future and won't have the recourse to deal with it.

Even if this is a legitimate problem (i.e. if there aren't other avenues which you may not be aware of), SCAN is very flawed legislation to address it, with little regard for due process. Someone at the meeting hesitantly compared it to a security certificate hearing, because tenants don't have the right to see the evidence against them and defend it.

My best analogy is that there are some people in the community who see a problem with safety in their area. Think of safety like a computer program. I don't now how many times I've downloaded or purchased upgrades to computer software on the blind hope that they might have fixed that one thing that really bothers me, or added that one feature that I've always wanted. But when I download the software, it causes all sorts of compatibility problems, it takes all sorts of time and effort to set up, and it takes up much more resources than the previous version. Plus it introduces new bugs to have to live with.

I see SCAN as the upgrade that some people think they want because they hope that it will fill a gap, whether or not it actually will.

- RG>

Erigami said...

"Via Blogawa, I saw a post by A. on Please Pick-Up Your Socks..."

boo-YA! The last few weekends worth of scrounging over Blogawa's website was worth it. Thanks for making my day. =)

XUP said...

I do think the whole landlord and tenant thing needs to be re-worked somehow -- not SCAN obviously. One thing I always thought would be helpful is if landlords had to be licensed in some way -- undergo a brief training course on how to screen tenants, what their obligations and rights are and what happens if they don't meet their obligations. The license has to be renewed every few years much like a driver's license. They can also get demerit points for legitimate, proven complaints against them and can lose their license if they're really bad landlords. Tenants should have a registry like they do in the UK. It serves as an easy reference tool and can make it very difficult for tenants who've trashed places or skipped out on rent, etc. to get rental accommodation from legitimate landlords. The system we have now works mainly on trust from both sides -- there aren't a lot of teeth for either party to use in the case of disputes. I don't blame landlords for being desparate sometimes because I've seen the horrors that some tenant can wreak. Of course there are also many horrors on the other side.