Author Archive

About "Dave Breakenridge"

Dave Breakenridge is the Online Content Editor of the Calgary Sun - responsible for local news on, original online content, as well as writing a weekly column with a strong focus on Calgary issues. He also maintains the blogs Breaken' it Down and Thirsty Writin' Scoundrels. A nine-year resident of Calgary, he has covered myriad issues at the Calgary Sun as a reporter, including crime, education, health, politics and pop culture. An Edmonton native, he is also a former radio broadcaster and a graduate of Grant MacEwan University's journalism program.

Concerns about Alberta grow ops nothing new

- May 7th, 2014

The green stuff.

Earlier this week, I suggested that people aren’t reporting grow ops to police because I don’t think they’re worried about weed.

I tend to think there is an awareness of the dangers posed to property, in large part driven  by media coverage of the issue, but overall, our desire to see the drug legalized or decriminalized would have us turn a blind eye to grow ops in our neighbourhoods.

I think the province needs to come up with ways to address some of the problems that arise under our current legal structure, but I think it’s misguided to suggest people aren’t aware of the property damage or other issues around grow ops.

This is an issue that has garnered big coverage for the last decade, and reminded me of a feature I wrote when I was a young-ish reporter, way back in 2006:

Between Oct. 3, 2005, and Sept. 28, 2006, executive orders were put in place by the Calgary Health Region condemning or clearing 223 homes used as marijuana grow operations. Millions of dollars worth of city real estate was declared unfit for human habitation or deemed safe to live in again, but only after a lengthy and costly cleanup. Few parts of the city were left untouched by a lucrative criminal enterprise, one considered by law enforcement as a low-risk, high-reward venture. The Sun’s DaveBreakenridge looks at the long list of Calgary’s growing problem. 
It looks like any other house, but what lurks within is of serious concern.
Mould, fertilizer and pesticides are the likely culprits, as is the threat of fire and electrocution from the previous resident’s illegal operations.
The blinds are always drawn, the occupants keep to themselves, leaving neighbours suspicious but oblivious, until one day the cops come knocking.
Ray and Eileen, who live near a house in Deer Run raided last fall, said they were surprised to find the police clearing out their neighbour’s unassuming bungalow.
“It was always only one guy in there,” said Ray, who didn’t want his last name used, adding the man who was living in the house kept the front yard clean and the grass cut.
“All of a sudden, there are all these cops there.”
Eileen said after sitting vacant for months, the home was sold and fixed up and is now occupied by a young couple.
Daryl Hill, who lives in Woodbine, said he was shocked to see the cops raiding a nearby home two months ago, less than a year after new people moved in.
“One day we had 15 vehicles from the city out front,” he said.
“It’s a shame and a shock for us. It’s normally somewhere else, never across the street.”
The home now sits vacant, with the condemnation order visible in the window.
From Saddle Ridge to Sundance, Erin Woods to Arbour Lake, grow-ops are popping up faster than ever, leaving behind a slew of serious health and safety hazards.
Vicki Wearmouth, the CHR’s grow-op inspector, says what she finds in an overwhelming majority of these homes puts people’s health at risk.
“I know most people think the mould is the big issue, but that’s just part of it,” said Wearmouth, who visits 90% of the homes raided by police.
“We have chemical contamination — a whole variety of fertilizers and pesticides, usually mixed together in a slurry.”
Those chemicals are sprayed not just over the pot plants, but on walls and ceilings, creating a toxic build-up that could potentially make people sick.
People who run grow-ops will also routinely damage a home’s structure trying to illegally tap into a power source.
After a grow-op is raided, Wearmouth said, the city often shuts off the power, water and gas to the home.
“And that combined is an unfit environment to live in,” she said.
But just because it’s condemned, doesn’t mean it can’t be sold, Wearmouth said.
“As long as it’s not causing a nuisance to the neighbourhood, it can remain in that condition,” she said.
But for someone to live in any of the homes again, every item in the condemnation order has to be repaired, in some cases meaning the home has to be gutted.
“In each order, we indicate what we want done, whether it’s removal of all the drywall, insulation and vapour barrier, and sometimes it’s just cleaning,” Wearmouth said, adding the worst home she inspected ended up being torn down.
To have an order lifted, a homeowner needs to meet all the conditions of the inspector, and the work needs to be done by licensed contractors and environmental consultants.
It usually costs a minimum of $35,000 to clean up a house.
Wearmouth signs off on all orders lifted, and says people shouldn’t worry about their health if they’re moving into one of these homes.
One house cleared in the last year, recently adorned with Halloween decorations, has evidence a lot of work was done to clean it up.
“I like to think it’s a safe place to live in,” she said.
“I can only imagine the paperwork that comes across my desk is legitimate. That’s why we ask for qualified, licensed contractors and environmental companies.
“But there’s never a 100-percent guarantee.”
The clues of marijuana growing operations may include:
- Covered windows. (i.e. foil)
- Continual and suspicious comings and goings
- People hauling or constructing a watering system into a building.
- People hauling suspicious types of material or garbage away from their buildings and property. (i.e. plastic sheeting, fertilizer bags or containers, plant stocks, plastic piping materials, plastic pots, CO2 tanks, fuel tanks, etc.)
- Abnormally warm buildings. (In winter, snow may melt off the roofs of buildings.)
- Loud exhaust or humidifier fans
- Unusual “skunky” smell emanating from the exhaust fans
- Heavy deodorants and/or air fresheners to mask the smell of marijuana
- The noise of a diesel/ gas/propane power generator. (Diversionary method of providing electricity for the grow site.)
- Unusual electrical hook-ups
- Humming sounds given off by lights and electrical transformers used to provide heat and false sunlight.

Not even ‘officially in the race, and Alberta Tory hopeful Jim Prentice racks up caucus support

- April 29th, 2014

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice hasn’t officially made it official yet, but he is seeking the top political job in Alberta.

It was announced April 28, through a spokesman, that Prentice will enter the race in May.

“He’s been talking to cabinet and caucus. He’s received a lot of encouragement to go and he’s decided to put together a campaign team and finance team,” a Prentice source told the Sun. “In the coming days, probably next week, he’ll make a formal announcement at which time he will outline his vision for the province.”

And despite claims that he wants to see a competitive race, he is doing a good job of building support for his bid.

He has already nabbed the endorsements of five MLAs, including current members of cabinet.

So far, Prentice has racked up the support of:

Health Minister Fred Horne

Education Minister Jeff Johnson

  Associate Minsiter of Wellness Dave Rodney

Calgary MLA Neil Brown

Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar and Associate Minister of Recovery & Reconstruction for Southwest Alberta Kyle Fawcett have also indicated they’re keen on Prentice taking over.

That’s more than 10% of the Tory caucus right there.

Ken Hughes is vowing a competitive race, and I don’t doubt he’ll put up a fight, but one gets the sense the deck is stacked against him.

Coronations aren’t good, and the party needs to have a thorough debate of what it stands for. If it comes down to just a debate between Prentice and Hughes, so be it. But the Alberta PC party won’t benefit if some tough questions aren’t asked.

Calgary’s Sled Island festival named to Time magazine list of top festivals in 2014

- April 21st, 2014

Singer Annie Clark of St. Vincent, seen here performing with Dave Grohl (back) after Nirvana was inducted during the 29th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York April 11, 2014, plays Calgary as part of the Sled Island festival in June. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, Calgary’s Sled Island Festival has Time on their side.

The city’s upstart music and arts festival got a nod from writer Melissa Locker, who compiled the top 14 music festivals in 2014 for

Sled Island is ranked alongside legendary festivals Glastonbury in the U.K. and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

“After the 2013 festival was cancelled due to massive floods that ravaged Alberta, the festival is coming back stronger than ever with a killer line-up curated by Kathleen Hanna, the musician behind Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin,” Locker writes.

“Their new slogan says it all: Nobody rains on our parade.”

While it doesn’t boast the big names in the lineups of other festivals on the list — Outkast, Arcade Fire, Queens of the Stone Age, Bruce Springsteen, and many, many more — Sled Island is chock-full of great alternative and indie acts.

The list includes the Hannah’s band the Julie Ruin, as well as British act Spiritualized, alt-rock forebear Bob Mould, Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, indie darling St. Vincent, post-punk pioneers Mission of Burma, as well as Canadian performers Neko Case and Joel Plaskett Emergency.

The festival runs June 18-22 at more than 30 venues around Calgary.

Here’s a look at some of the lineup highlights:

St. Vincent:

Killer Mike:


Joel Plaskett Emergency:

Bob Mould: 

UPDATED: Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes resigns cabinet — hasn’t officially entered leadership race

- April 7th, 2014

The race has officially begun. Or has it?

Ken Hughes is the first Tory to drop out of cabinet, and is expected to run for leader of the Tory Party.

Hughes, a one-time PC MP and the former chair of Alberta Health Services, was first elected in 2012.

He served as energy minister until last November until he was shuffled over to Municipal Affairs.

Here’s his announcement:


Now that someone has taken the first step, you can expect other tire kickers to follow suit.

While there was speculation any sitting ministers would wait until after the budget to jump in, I was kind of hoping to get things going.

After stirring Alberta legislature watchers into a tizzy, Hughes said at a lunch-hour press conference that he hasn’t entered the race, but he added he would have more to say this week.

I’d be shocked if it wasn’t a leadership bid, but stranger things have happened.

Lethbridge MLA Greg Weadick has been announced as acting municipal affairs minister.

Edmonton’s Interstellar Rodeo a glimpse at Calgary Folk Fest headliners?

- April 2nd, 2014

The Calgary Folk Music Festival doesn’t unveil its lineup for another three weeks, but could we already have a glimpse at some of the headliners?

Organizers for Edmonton’s Interstellar Rodeo on Tuesday showed off the acts who will be gracing the stage at Hawrelak Park July 25-27, the sake weekend tarpies will be hitting Prince’s Island Park in Calgary.

Already, there’s some overlap between the two festivals, with Amos Lee, Andrew Bird and Jason Isabell, Tramples by Turtles and The Lone Bellow playing both (the Calgary Folk fest has been offering weekly artist leaks in advance of the big headliner reveal April 23).

But if last year is any indication, there could be more.  Calgary Folk Fest 2013 headliners Steve Earle, Alabama Sahakes, M. Ward, Kurt Vile and Danny Michel played Edmonton as well, as did band Elliott Brood, who played a well-received Twilight Stage set on Saturday in Calgary.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Feist, Gord Downie or Corb Lund coming to Prince’s Island that weekend. Personally, I’d love to see all three.

Lund has been touring in support of his most recent album, Cabin Fever, a great, gritty collection of songs.

Meanwhile, Feist and Downie are launching some pretty cool sounding projects.

Downie, who you know best as the frontman of Canada’s rock icons The Tragically Hip, is teaming up with The Sadies for Gord Downie, The Sadies, And The Conquering Sun.

Calgary-raised Feist has teamed up with duos Snowblink and AroarA to form Hydra, an indie supergroup of sorts.

Both Hydra and the Conquering Sun would be welcome additions to Calgary’s Folk Fest. And Lund puts on a great show every time.

Could organizers be planning on announcing one, or all three? Stay tuned.

Calgary Folk Fest goes July 24-27 at Prince’s Island Park.

In addition to Lee, Isabell, Bird, Trampled By Turtles and The Lone Bellow, already announced artists include Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, Basia Bulat, A Tribe Called Red, Jill Barber and Fishbone. Remember Fishbone?