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Growers Using Kids

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When drug squad cops arrived at a Woodbridge home armed with a search
warrant last month, they found what they expected: 150
marijuana plants in a grow lab.

What they were surprised to find was people living in the house, including
a nine-year-old child.

The discovery, in a residential neighbourhood like many others in the
region, is indicative of what York Regional Police are calling
a disturbing trend: children living in homes that have been converted to
marijuana grow labs.

"I call them marijuana factories," said Det. Mike Klimm of the drugs and
vice squad.

"They're not the closet grows we used to see."

And with increasing frequency, drug officers are seeing grow houses that do
not fit the prototypical operation they've seen in the

For years now, police have been telling the public to watch out for homes
that seem suspiciously quiet or uninhabited. That's
because marijuana growers often rent homes with no intention of living in
them, instead devoting as much space inside as possible to
the lights, pots and exhaust systems needed to fuel their operations.

But with increasing frequency, police are finding people living amidst the
grow operations, often with children, Det. Klimm said.

In the past 10 months, 18 kids, aged two to 17, have been found living in
such homes, police said.

Det. Klimm said, in some instances, families are used as fronts for grow

"(Growers) will hire people with kids to look after the house," he said.
"We call them farmers.

"If you have kids, it's better."

Whenever police find children living in such conditions, the Children's Aid
Society is immediately called. Sometimes, the children
end up in CAS custody.

Police Chief Armand La Barge, who has ranked the eradication of grow houses
high among his priorities for the force, said there's
more to the issue than objecting to children being brought up in the drug
culture -- it's a health and safety risk, as well.

"(Grow houses) are absolutely death traps," he said. "There are cords and
wires everywhere -- the hydro is juiced up."

Residents living among hundreds of marijuana plants can also be exposed to
chemicals used to promote growth, as well as mould from
the excessive amounts of water used on the plants, the chief said.

"There are all kinds of hidden dangers associated with this."

York CAS executive director Martin McNamara said his agency is routinely
called in when police lay charges in grow house busts. The
agency will generally assume custody of kids whose parents are placed under
arrest, he said.

But criminal charges don't necessarily mean the CAS will press for
long-term custody of the children, if there's no evidence of
neglect or abuse. The CAS may try to place the children with members of
their extended family, Mr. McNamara said.

Returning the children to their parents would be subject to a great deal of

"We wouldn't just remove the child because somebody has been charged," Mr.
McNamara said. "(But) we would ... look at how (charges)
would impact on the case and supervision of the child."

Chief La Barge said youngsters living in grow houses can be subjected to
dangers associated with criminal activity their parents
engage in.

"We have homicides, home invasions and robberies associated with this kind
of pursuit," he said.

"And (the children) have absolutely no choice whatsoever."

Source: Liberal, The (CN ON)
Pubdate: November 13, 2003
Contact jfuthey@yrng.com
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Copyright: 2003, Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Jeff Mitchell