Inside Queen's Park: The legal side of bedbugs

With the body politic of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government lying bleeding like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, perhaps a change in programming is in order because rubbernecking at the scene of carnage is so unbecoming.

So it’s on to other much-needed distractions, particularly the bedbug summit called by Liberal MPP Mike Colle at Queen’s Park last week.

It’s no joke. Bedbugs are a serious issue, and if all of the assembled experts are correct, we’re in a pandemic bigger than H1N1.

The critters lurk in mattresses, furniture, power outlets, and light switches and along baseboards in the hunt for human blood at night.

The media has been all over the issue with headlines and videos about them and the sudden leap in infestations in cities across Canada, so much so that the resulting fear of bedbugs is probably greater than it should be.

But what’s more interesting for the profession, perhaps, is the fact that bedbug infestations in the United States have triggered litigation, as well as the discovery that the liability insurance carried by hotels, motels, and the like is falling short in covering the resulting costs.

Despite predictions that we’d follow suit, the problem hasn’t happened here with the same intensity. There have been a few lawsuits filed, notably one by a Toronto man who sued a Winnipeg hotel claiming he was infected after a night’s stay in 2007. I suspect, however, that some firms are hard at work.

Bedbugs are a pain. Their bites hurt and get itchy and infected. They don’t care about income level, culture or race, says Mike Heimbach of Abell Pest Control Inc.

“You could put your pants on in the morning and, if there was a bedbug there, carry it to the office and then you could get an infestation there,” says Heimbach. “These guys love to travel and they hitchhike. You could pick up a bedbug riding the TTC.”

Last Wednesday, the industry laid out some steps the government should consider in fighting back against the epidemic. Aimed mostly at large institutions, the measures would require some regulatory changes but could be easily adopted under something like the Occupational Health and Safety Act, according to Heimbach.

Colle is already pushing his private member’s bill, the renters’ right to know act, which would force landlords to reveal whether a unit had been infected by bedbugs to prospective tenants.

Still, as Heimbach points out, education is probably a better tool than legislation in this case, particularly since getting front-line workers at institutions to recognize the critters and take immediate action is the best defence against their spread. If it needs to be enshrined in a regulation somewhere, it should be.

“Bedbugs are an issue anywhere we have people in beds, in hotels, hospitals, prisons, care centres, anywhere,” says Heimbach. “But many don’t recognize them. The key is to detect a small infestation and stop it before it blooms and grows.”

All of this is expensive at about $2,000 or so for the average apartment and more for a larger house. In multi-unit buildings, the bugs travel from one home to the next in search of food, so even if one infestation ends, it can pop up somewhere else.

Killing the critters without toxins means a series of protocols, such as bagging mattresses and box springs with bug-proof enclosures, setting special cup traps near furniture and beds, and putting out sticky devices to snare any loose bugs.

A pest-control agency should also come in and use either steam or extreme cold to kill off the bugs in places where they like to hide, such as behind picture frames and along baseboards.

While steam has been used for years to heat up house interiors and bake the insects to death, it’s expensive and requires extensive preparation.

As an alternative, cryogenic treatment has also just arrived here, although it was delayed by Canada’s favourite sport: the bureaucratic approval process. It uses liquid carbon dioxide and nozzle technology to create “snow” pellets that freeze an area in a flash and literally cause the bugs’ exoskeletons to crack open. They die as a result.

Lorne Chadnick in Ottawa figured he’d hit on a great idea when he spotted a Swedish cryogenic system at a trade show. Two years and tens of thousands of dollars later, he’s finally gotten it approved in Ontario after navigating a maze of red tape.

“They warned me it could take years and cost me $150,000,” says Chadnick, who notes he didn’t spend quite that much. Still, who would have thought it would be so hard to get snow approved in Ontario?
It may be new here but it’s been used for a while in Europe, the United States, and other provinces.

Chadnick secured Health Canada approval for the system last year, but that wasn’t good enough for Ontario. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that he got approval from the province’s Ministry of the Environment.

“It’s much more effective and environmentally friendly than chemicals and easier to use than heat,” says Chadnick. “It’s perfectly safe for humans and pets.”
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Ian Harvey has been a journalist for 32 years writing about a diverse range of issues including legal and political affairs. His e-mail address is [email protected].

Free newsletter

Our newsletter is FREE and keeps you up to date on all the developments in the Ontario legal community. Please enter your email address below to subscribe.

Recent articles & video

Gowling's Mark Giavedoni on the housing shortage and logistics sector 'boom in real estate'

Ont. Superior Court orders tenant to vacate housing despite ongoing human rights tribunal dispute

Ontario Court of Appeal rules tenant responsible for snow removal in slip and fall case

Imran Kamal told his story about addiction, hoping to encourage the legal profession to be more open

Ontario Court of Justice welcomes four new justices: Frank, Hanna, Harris, Marcon

Ont. Superior Court denies disability benefits due to lack of a causal link to 40-year-old accident

Most Read Articles

Imran Kamal told his story about addiction, hoping to encourage the legal profession to be more open

Ontario Superior Court rejects lawyer's request to intervene in fatal vehicle collision

Slip-and-fall on black ice is an 'accident' under Statutory Benefits Schedule: Ont. Superior Court

Ontario Court of Justice welcomes four new justices: Frank, Hanna, Harris, Marcon