Legislation passed years ago, but still not proclaimed as law
A Royal Newfoundland Constabulary car outside of a home on Tessier Place in St. John’s earlier this month.
— Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
An Independent MHA says a piece of legislation passed in the House of Assembly more than five years ago that has yet to be proclaimed law may have prevented a murder that took place recently in a downtown St. John’s neighbourhood.
Tom Osborne sits as the MHA for St. John’s South, an area that includes 8 Tessier Place where a recent homicide investigation was launched by the RNC following the death of 47-year-old Joey Whelan.
A second-degree murder charge has been laid against 34-year-old Kenny Green.
The neighbourhood has been the site of several police operations, and is known locally as being rampant with drugs and prostitution.
In 2007, Osborne was the minister of Justice for the Progressive Conservative government when the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act was debated, voted on and passed in the House.
In a 2007 government news release, it was said the act was to help curb targeted activities in neighbourhoods and communities.
“This act allows our government to give residents a way to register complaints and to put an end to illegal activities that adversely affect or harm a neighbourhood. Our law enforcement agencies are seeing an increase in drug and prostitution-related criminal activity and our government is providing the legislation necessary to ensure residents feel safe within our neighbourhoods and communities," Osborne said in the release.
Following the death of Whalen on March 17 as a result of a beating at 8 Tessier Place, residents of the neighbourhood became very vocal about the number of complaints they had made over a two-year period about violence and drug use in the area — particularly at 8 Tessier Place. One anonymous resident of the area spoke to The Telegram and painted it as an otherwise fine neighbourhood, darkened by people shooting up drugs, littering the place with used needles and behaving violently as a result of who had moved into the home two years prior.
Despite complaints made to law enforcement and the property management company, the resident said nothing was done. They also said they felt the murder was preventable if the warnings from the neighbourhood had been heeded.
Osborne says the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act may have helped the residents take back their neighbourhood and save somebody’s life.
“That legislation was designed specifically for the very concerns that the residents of Tessier Place and surrounding neighbourhoods are now raising. If it was proclaimed in the law and funded by the province, that could very well have saved the life of the individual at Tessier Place and it certainly would have made that neighbourhood safer.”
According to a past government news release, the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act uses civil law to promote peaceful communities and neighbourhoods to increase public safety. The legislation, developed in consultation with law enforcement agencies and other stakeholder groups, is designed to improve community safety by targeting and, if necessary, shutting down residential and commercial buildings and land which are habitually used for illegal activities such as producing, selling or using illegal drugs, as well as prostitution, solvent abuse or the unlawful sale and consumption of alcohol.
Area residents said 8 Tessier Place was habitually used for selling and using drugs, and prostitution has been reported in the area, as well.
The act had jumped through all the right hoops some time ago, says Osbourne. It had gone through a great deal of scrutiny and consultation. It had been debated and voted on in the house and passed.
All that was done by 2007.
“Now the legislation has to be proclaimed into law and the government has not yet done that,” says Osborne.
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Osborne says this act allows such activity to be halted without police actually having to find enough evidence to get a warrant or make an arrest.
“Even though (police) had the calls, they know that there is illicit activity taking place on the property, they don’t have necessarily the significant, sufficient evidence to shut a property down,” says Osborne. “Right now the RCMP or the RNC have to undergo a great deal of investigation. They’ve got to have enough evidence to be assured of a conviction before they’re able to move in and kick the door in on a place such as the one on Tessier Place. So this legislation was designed that if the RNC know that this is a problem property — the neighbourhood knows that it’s a problem property and that there is illegal or illicit activity taking place at that property — this is a way that the property can be shut down.”
So if a residence is a known drug house, but the police still don’t have the evidence to make a successful warrant and conviction, law enforcement can apply for a court order under the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act and have the house at least shut down.
“Basically, you harass the individuals out of business,” says Osborne.
According to a 2007 government news release, Budget 2007 provided $237,000 for an investigation unit within the Department of Justice and it was said then it would be in place as early as that fall.
What happened to that money or that investigation unit is unclear.
The government is in a time of fiscal restraint, and Osborne says this act could actually save money.
“This could in fact be more cost effective. It would ensure safer communities and perhaps save lives if this legislation were proclaimed and funded.”
Osborne was advised when he was justice minister by people filling the same role in other provinces where similar community acts had already been proclaimed law. He says he was told by other justice ministers that the legislation was working well and was saving time and money for their police forces.
There is an investment needed by government, Osborne says, but if it ends up being an act that makes the police force run more economically, taxpayers’ dollars will be going further.
On Friday, Osborne was one of a group of people who met to talk about what went wrong at 8 Tessier Place and how to ensure the neighbourhood starts to take back their right to safer streets.
Mark Wilson is a resident of the area who attended the meeting that he says was organized by St. John’s city Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary. Wilson says in addition to O’Leary and Osborne, there were almost a dozen concerned residents of the Tessier Place neighbourhood, two RNC officers, some city officials and others.
“It was very positive. Really positive. It’s also nice going to a meeting like that and leaving feeling like there are options,” says Wilson.
Wilson says learning about the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act as a way to fight back was very promising, and the meeting overall was very positive.
“The response ‘We can’t do anything’ doesn’t make anybody feel good. So the response that we got was ‘Let’s work together,’” says Wilson.
The group is now planning to build an official neighbourhood association.