Nova Scotia

Safer Communities case faces court challenge

Two Cape Bretoners are hoping the province's highest court will redefine when investigators can evict people from their homes when they suspect illegal activity.

Two Cape Bretoners are hoping the province's highest court will redefine when investigators can evict people from their homes when they suspect illegal activity.

Sheldon MacKinnon and Delilah Dixon appealed their eviction order under the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

The act allows someone to be kicked out of their home if it appears that illegal activity is taking place and disrupting the neighbourhood. This could include drug trafficking, gambling or prostitution. No conviction is necessary.

Earlier this year, a judge ordered MacKinnon and Dixon out of their home in Asby Bay for 70 days. The judge concluded it was a drug house after considering the couple's drug convictions and the fact that cocaine was found in previous searches.

The couple's lawyer, Tony Mozvic, said more evidence should be required.

"It strikes you as a bit unfair because … when you have the government coming after you and the police and the lawyers that they can marshall up and all these things, it's a very difficult process for two citizens to try to take that on," he said.

Mozvic said the court must determine whether a home is habitually used as a drug house. It's a test known as reasonable inference, he said, but "nobody has really defined what a reasonable inference is."

736 complaints

There have been 736 complaints since the legislation came into effect in 2007, mostly involving drugs. Eighty-six people were evicted from their homes and apartments between 2008 and 2010. Only six fought their evictions in court.

Roger Merrick, director of public safety investigations, is pleased with those numbers.

"We take to the courts the most extreme cases. When we speak to complainants and we are able to show the courts the adverse effects, the courts have been very forthcoming in terms of recognizing the need to close certain properties," Merrick said.

There have been 94 complaints this year, down from 140 in 2007.

Merrick said he cannot explain the decline, though he suspects more people heard about the legislation when it was new because of the media attention.

MacKinnon and Dixon were granted a reprieve when they filed an appeal in February.

There is no word on when the Court of Appeal will release its decision.

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