Read on and see the abuse. Note that they have quotas to meet.
When the province goes after ill-gotten gains, who pays? - The Globe and Mail
B.C.’s Civil Forfeiture Office can seize and sell citizens’ property â€” without so much as a criminal charge being laid | National Post
VANCOUVER — David Lloydsmith was alone inside his Mission, B.C., home when an RCMP officer showed up at the door. The constable barged his way inside, bruising Mr. Lloydsmith in the process. The Mountie did not have a search warrant. He should not have entered the house, and excessive force was used, a B.C. Supreme Court judge would later find. Mr. Lloydsmith’s Charter rights were violated, the judge ruled.
The officer ventured to the house after an erroneous 911 call. There was no sign of disturbance around the Lloydsmith home. Once he’d forced his way inside, the officer detected a smell of marijuana, and an illicit grow operation was allegedly found in the basement.
Was that a big deal? To police, apparently not. No charges were laid, and the RCMP’s file was soon closed.
Marijuana plants and related paraphernalia that police say they removed from the home were destroyed. But seven years on, Mr. Lloydsmith is in a tough legal battle, trying to keep possession of his $300,000 home. His fight is not with police or the Crown, but another branch of B.C.’s Ministry of Justice, called the Civil Forfeiture Office (CFO).
Despite the lack of evidence, the CFO considers Mr. Lloydsmith’s home an instrument of crime. They want to seize it, sell it and dump the proceeds into provincial coffers. They do that sort of thing all the time.
The standard of proof in the case of civil forfeiture rests on probability, the mere likelihood that an unlawful activity occurred. No criminal conviction is necessary, let alone a criminal charge. As the Lloydsmith case demonstrates, civil forfeiture actions are launched even in situations where Charter rights have been violated.
Civil forfeiture isn’t unique to B.C.; seven other provinces have similar legislation. But nowhere in Canada is it pursued more aggressively, or with more gusto. “Today, about 550 cases are ongoing or pending,” B.C.’s Ministry of Justice announced Thursday. The CFO has “taken in” approximately $41-million since it was formed in 2006, including $8.4-million last year alone, with the spoils dumped into B.C.’s general revenue accounts. About a quarter of the annual bounty is eventually directed to crime-prevention programs.
Justice officials unveiled on Thursday a BMW SUV seized in a recent forfeiture case. The vehicle is now wrapped in a “skin” of anti-crime graphics and “will be used for the next two years as a rolling billboard to engage the public at local schools and community events.”
The province said its civil-forfeiture program “continues to undermine the profit motive behind unlawful activity by taking away the tools and proceeds of crime.” Critics call it a blatant cash grab. They say civil forfeiture is sometimes the state’s way of punishing a person when police and the Crown can’t summon enough proof for a criminal conviction. It’s a “back door” style of prosecution, and the practice must stop or at least slow down, say a growing number of defence lawyers and legal analysts.
Next month, proceedings related to Mr. Lloydsmith’s case will be heard in B.C.’s Court of Appeal; depending on the outcome, changes in the way the CFO prosecutes matters may be required. At issue is whether Mr. Lloydsmith must submit to the discovery process — answering questions put to him by the CFO and its lawyers — before the courts have decided whether the case will proceed at all, due to the Charter breaches.
‘From what I understood, civil forfeiture was meant to prevent and fight organized crime. I’m just a guy who owned some land. I did nothing wrong’
Three breaches did occur, B.C. Supreme Court Judge Peter Leask ruled last year. (In Canada, evidence collected unlawfully may still be used to prosecute; it is up to a judge to determine whether using the tainted evidence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.)
According to his counsel and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which has intervenor status in the appeal, Mr. Lloydsmith should not be required to answer questions put to him by the CFO, because he has the right to not incriminate himself. That’s true in a criminal proceeding, where an accused can choose to remain silent. But a civil-forfeiture case is different; it’s a “weird hybrid” of civil and criminal law, says Raji Mangat, the BCCLA lawyer assigned to the case.
The CFO insists that Mr. Lloydsmith should submit to discovery now, and answer questions about his alleged marijuana grow-op, before any more Charter arguments are heard. That would be unfair, says Ms. Mangat. She calls civil forfeiture in B.C. “coercive” and intended to force owners of targeted property into cash settlements with the CFO, regardless of the merits.
A journeyman electrician, Mr. Lloydsmith is now 56 and partly disabled. He lives alone in the house that he stands to lose. “This has been hard on him,” says Ms. Mangat. “It has worn him down.”
Robert Murray knows the feeling. In February 2012, RCMP entered his rural property near Nelson. B.C. They arrested him and seized a few dozen marijuana plants under cultivation in an outbuilding. Mr. Murray wasn’t charged. But the CFO went after him a year later, he says, demanding a $40,000 payment to make the case go away.
A 40-year-old legal assistant, Mr. Murray read up on the relevant law. He decided to refuse the CFO’s “settlement” offer. His case is now tied up in the courts. In the meantime, the negative publicity forced him to move, and his lender foreclosed on the property.
“From what I understood, civil forfeiture was meant to prevent and fight organized crime,” says Mr. Murray. “I’m just a guy who owned some land. I did nothing wrong, and I’m not going to pay.”