The man accused of being behind the largest illegal marijuana grow operation ever busted in Chilliwack was back in court this week and he doesn’t have a lawyer.
It was more than seven years ago when Mounties searched Lloyd McConnell’s Nixon Road property and found a sophisticated BC Hydro bypass and 11,520 marijuana plants in an underground bunker under a Quonset hut.
McConnell is charged with marijuana production and possession, as well as hydro theft in connection with the grow-op that produced an estimated $3 million worth of drugs a year.
McConnell was in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack via telephone on Jan. 9 for what was supposed to be a pre-trial conference. He told Justice Miriam Maisonville, however, that he does not have a lawyer and on Dec. 13, 2016 he found out he was turned down for legal aid, but he has filed an appeal.
The case was last in the courts in February 2015 when Maisonville ruled that City of Chilliwack staff presence while RCMP officers carried out the search warrant on the Nixon Road property was a violation of his Charter rights.
“They had no authority to be there,” Maisonville said during her ruling at the end of a voir dire regarding 12 allegations of Charter violations.
In what seemed to be an unusual approach, his lawyer Patrick McGowan argued in November 2014 that McConnell was very much connected to the property, hence the Charter violations.
“He is the primary person connected to the property,” McGowan said. “Mr. McConnell is very much tied to the property, the Quonset hut specifically, and the grow-op very specifically.”
Some arguments of the Charter violation included claims that a search by a BC Hydro employee was unauthorized, the information to obtain the warrant was insufficient, there was a warrantless search by officers accompanied by a neighbour two years prior, and that police seized items forbidden by the warrant.
In the end, in February 2015, Maisonville rejected eight of the 12 alleged violations. Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.
The Justice did agree, however, that in addition to the city’s unauthorized presence being a violation, the seizure of some items alleged to be connected to the grow operation was also a Section 8 violation.
The arguments by McConnell’s lawyer in 2014, that he was tied to the property and the grow-op, flew in the face of what his previous lawyer Nathan Muirhead argued to Chilliwack city council in 2010.
McConnell was at council in July 2010 for a show-cause hearing regarding “hazardous conditions” found at the property. Muirhead argued that McConnell was an “innocent victim” and really an absentee landlord.
Council heard that the massive grow-op took a toll on the surrounding environment in the Eastern Hillsides. Police say chemicals were spilled at the site, and the operators had run an irrigation line from nearby Elk Creek, a fish-bearing stream, and were pumping water to the plants.
And water was not the only thing the operation was siphoning illegally. Police estimate that based on the amount of time they believe it was in business, the grow-op probably consumed more than $400,000 of stolen hydro electric power.
The property’s caretaker, Darryl Ness, was found guilty of production and possession of marijuana in 2012. The then 64-year-old was given an 18-month conditional sentence.
As McConnell waits to hear back about obtaining legal aid, he is next due in court Feb. 6 to begin the pre-trial conference.