CTV.ca News Staff
“It is alleged that approximately 6,000 plants, valued at over $6 million, and 30 pounds of dried marijuana with a value of $45,000 were seized,” Staff Insp. Donald Campbell said at a Friday news conference.
Toronto residentsTat Thang Nguyen, 35, and Dinh Pham, 46, have been charged with conspiracy and drug production charges in relation to the investigation. The building’s superintendent, 47-year-old Daniel Wallace, has been charged for conspiring to commit an indictable offence.
All three men appeared in court Friday. Police anticipate making more arrests.
Officers arrived Thursday morning with search warrants for five apartments in the building located at 2600 Jane St., just north of Sheppard Avenue West.
However, they soon expanded their search dramatically, requesting a number of additional warrants and eventually discovering 19 apartment grow-ops scattered throughout nine floors of the 13-storey highrise.
Officers spent many hours removing plants and equipment from the building, and the investigation was ongoing on Friday.
Drug squad investigators said the operations posed a fire and health threat to the building and to other residents.
“From what we can tell, they all appear to be built the same way,” Toronto police Det. Sgt. Dave Malcolm told the Toronto Star. “They all appear to be soil-based, they all appear to be filthy and they all appear to be fire threats.”
The two-bedroom apartments units were unoccupied, though one had a couch, bed, television, and DVD and VCR machines.
About 300 plants were growing in pots in each unit, with fertilizer scattered through the apartments.
The group that ran the operation had unplugged ovens and was using the 220-volt outlets to run powerful 1,000-watt lights.
“It’s a soil-based operation, not a true hydroponic grow,” Malcolm said. “It’s not a matter of if there’s going to be a fire, it’s a matter of when.”
Many apartment buildings have only one single electricity metre for the entire building, making it difficult for landlords to identify a spike in the energy consumption of a single apartment.
And landlords are required to provide 24-hour notice to tenants before entering an apartment, allowing time for growers to remove evidence of grow operations.
The cleanup bill will cost the owners more than $250,000, said Harry Birman, a senior manager for the building.
“Landlords need the tools to countermeasure these things,” he told the Star. “And one of them is the ability to inspect suites when we suspect there are marijuana grow-ops.”
Toronto police Chief Bill Blair says the scope of the bust and its location reveals how marijuana grow-ops are proliferating.
He says it’s a lucrative criminal enterprise, so it’s no surprise more criminals are becoming involved with the illegal operations.
Blair added marijuana grow-ops are almost inevitably connected to organized crime.
Some of the building’s 700 residents were disgusted and shocked as they watched police haul out eight truckloads of drug paraphernalia such as lamps, fans and electronic devices.
“It’s scary, no doubt about it,” said Wayne Merriman.
“I am so worried because I have two kids, my daughter is 13, my son is 17,” one woman said. “And you worry, you know?”
Some residents said they often smelled marijuana, but thought it was just people smoking up inside their apartments.
The building’s property manager did not want to go appear on camera, but told CTV News the grow-ops did not pose a health risk to residents.
Councillor Michael Thompson, however, disagreed. He said residents should be evacuated because the chemicals involved are dangerous.
“The use of water and mould creates a tremendous condition, especially for young people and seniors and so on who reside in the building, so I’m very concerned,” he said.
“I have my own experience in Niagara (Falls) a couple of weeks ago where I actually couldn’t breathe for a portion of the day, having gone into a grow house just for about 10 minutes.”
Thompson wants Toronto to create a similar by-law to that of Niagara that allows the city to demolish homes used as grow houses.
City health officials were expected to visit the building Friday to investigate mould and fire hazard concerns after police wrap up their work.
A separate grow-op was discovered at the same building last year after it caught fire.
Police say they have dismantled 253 marijuana grow-ops so far this year, down from 319 at the same time last year.
With reports from CTV’s Austin Delaney and Galit Solomon