EDMONTON — More than 100 kids have been apprehended from drug houses or drug dealers in Alberta since the province introduced Canada’s first legislation to protect youngsters from such situations.
“Essentially, drug activity has been increasing — unfortunately, innocent kids are often caught up in the middle of it,” said Alberta Children and Youth Services spokeswoman Lisa Elliot.
The legislation, enacted in November 2006, is designed to protect children from parents or caregivers who put them at risk by drug trafficking or manufacturing.
“It makes it clear, this is a form of child abuse, these kids need protection,” Elliott said.
Drug houses can expose children to toxic mould, pesticides and herbicides. There’s also the peril of a criminal lifestyle.”
And the cases are heartbreaking, said Delaney — toddlers in homes where drugs are in easy reach, children sleeping in bedrooms with hanging electrical wires and newborns found amid toxic levels of mould.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen them as young as they come,” Delaney said.
The law allows workers to take a child into custody for up to 48 hours. They can also apply for temporary guardianship, if needed.
More than half of the children seized are from the Calgary area.
“That’s a huge number out of the Calgary region,” said Child and Family Services spokeswoman Dawn Delaney.
She said the Calgary numbers speak to good collaboration between child welfare workers and police — and also the sheer volume of drugs.
In the first four months of 2009 alone police seized more than $28 million worth of pot plants in 37 grow-op busts in Calgary, compared with all of 2005 when $68 million worth was seized.
The law provides penalties of up to $25,000 in fines and/or imprisonment of up to two years.
However, there have been just nine charges laid across the province and no convictions, according to Alberta Justice statistics.
Still, child welfare workers say the act is working by getting kids out of harm’s way.
“Due to the fact we have apprehended 100-plus children provincially to date, I do feel this legislation is achieving its intended goal, removing children from unsafe environments,” said Delaney.