Update: August 10, 3:10 p.m.
An Okanagan-based RCMP spokesperson contacted the Mountaineer by email late Saturday morning to say an RCMP spokesperson would not be available on the weekend. We responded by emailing detailed questions about the search warrant incident on Farrell Road on Aug. 2, and also with questions about policing policy in the future if cannabis plants are observed from a public place on private property. It’s unclear when the response will come.
Update: August 9, 7:10 p.m.
An RCMP spokesperson told the Mountaineer on Friday afternoon that other incidents in Revelstoke since Wednesday meant the RCMP was unable to provide the statement. We were referred to an Okanagan-based RCMP communications contact person. We emailed on Friday for comment but have not received a response.
Original story, Aug. 7
After two days and several phone calls and emails from the Mountaineer, Revelstoke RCMP responded Wednesday afternoon to our request to speak with a representative about the Aug. 2. search warrant on a Farrell Road home.
Cpl. Mike Esson from the RCMP Detachment called the Mountaineer to talk about the situation. He said the detachment is short staffed and he’s been busy keeping on top of the work. The two usual spokespersons for the Revelstoke detachment are not on duty; one is on vacation and the other on leave.
Anticipating standard RCMP policy to not comment on ongoing investigations, our questions focused on ongoing policy for the local detachment. For example, if an RCMP officer spots a cannabis plant from a public place, what will the RCMP response be in the future? Does the RCMP have a practical definition of what is “visible?” Has the Revelstoke RCMP executed any other search warrants for people growing four or fewer cannabis plants on their property? Does the RCMP plan further search warrants on other exhibitors on the Garden & Art Tour who may have cannabis plants in their garden?
Esson didn’t answer many of the questions directly, instead referring to the coming statement on Thursday. Local media communications with the RCMP can be strained at times, especially during significant incidents when there is high public interest. The relationship was strained by a demand by Esson at the end of the interview to not publish his statements, saying we didn’t have “permission.” After two days of requests for an interview, it was an unusual demand to make at the end of the roughly 15-minute interview.
New facts from the interview
-Esson said police deem the three seized cannabis plants to be visible from the roadway, and also visible from a public place during the garden tour because the private property was a de facto public space on that day due to the tour being a public event.
-He would not say if other search warrant applications had been filed by the Revelstoke RCMP for four or fewer plants being viewable from a public space.
-Esson said the reason the RCMP is focusing on enforcing the rules around keeping cannabis from public view was to keep cannabis away from children, who might be tempted to steal it if they can see it.
-Esson said that the situation had caused strain for the local police, saying some public reaction on social media had been “disturbing and disgusting.” He said the officer who filed the search warrant application had been targeted for his involvement. “Being searched out on social media and emails being sent. No matter what, he’s a police officer and has a job to do,” Esson said. “It is a small town, and I get that. It’s not easy for officers.”
-Esson acknowledged that the RCMP would be working on rebuilding trust, saying, “This isn’t what we intended.”
A new chapter in the story?
In correspondence with the Mountaineer, Anna Minten, the owner of the Farrell Road home that was searched on Aug. 2 said that Cpl. Esson visited her home to talk on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
Minten said Esson expressed “remorse” over what had happened, adding that based on the conversation, it didn’t appear to her that any charges would be laid or fines issued resulting from the search warrant.
Minten acknowledged that the local detachment’s reputation had taken a hit, but said she wanted to work to help them “fix their reputation.”
Will the RCMP’s Thursday statement illuminate a path forward from the incident?
Nadja Luckau, who is the chairperson of the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative society, which hosts the Garden & Art Tour, responded to the Mountaineer with a statement about the incident: “The Revelstoke Local Food Initiative’s Garden and Art Tour brings together the community by sharing local gardens and art displays and has done so for 7 years,” the statement reads. “Selected participants open their gardens to the public to share their space and knowledge about local gardening practices. At this point the LFI is seeking more information from government with regards to the Cannabis Act, so we can help to better educate the public.”
The public reaction on social media was overwhelmingly opposed to the local RCMP’s actions. In addition to the usual social media background noise of extreme views and reactions, most said police seeking a search warrant over three plants was a disproportionate response, and that taking a softer approach, such as police having an informative conversation with the homeowner, would have been a better option. Many were also critical of cannabis laws that allow for the potential for police intervention over a few plants. They said a few plants on a private property shouldn’t be a police priority and pointed to what they felt should be, such as increased traffic enforcement on the highway.
The story had significant exposure outside of Revelstoke.
-Minten was interviewed by a CBC national radio program, As It Happens, in a story that covered her experience.
-The story was featured in the Globe & Mail (paywall).
-Business in Vancouver compared the actions of the RCMP versus statements from the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth, when the provincial cannabis regulations were being developed, noting that Farnworth indicated enforcement of cannabis visible from a public place would be graduated and based on complaints, starting with warnings then escalating into fines for non-compliance.
-Prominent cannabis activists like Mark Emery and Dana Larsen noted their longstanding opposition to the way the cannabis rules are written.
No other province has a law saying your 4 legal cannabis plants must be hidden from public view.
This rule about hiding your plants is only here in BC.
The BC NDP need to fix their Cannabis Control & Licensing Act. It’s full of unnecessary punishments and restrictions.
— Dana Larsen (@DanaLarsen) August 7, 2019
-Many outlets, including CTV, Global, Castanet and Black Press, which operates a chain of community newspapers in B.C. including the Revelstoke Review, published the police statement with very minor re-writes, usually simply adding an introduction sentence. The next day, the Review did update the story to include the voice of the homeowners.