British Columbia’s forfeiture office abused power, lawsuit says

A B.C. man who spent years fighting an attempt by the province’s Civil Forfeiture Office to seize his home has launched a legal action of his own, accusing the government office of abusing its authority.

David Lloydsmith was at his home in Mission, B.C., in October, 2007, when an RCMP officer knocked on the door and said he was responding to a 911 call. Mr. Lloydsmith told the officer he was the only person at the home and had not called 911. The officer asked to enter the residence, a request Mr. Lloydsmith refused. But when he attempted to close the door, the officer barged in and restrained him, a judge later found. A subsequent search turned up marijuana plants, and Mr. Lloydsmith was arrested for production-related offences.

The charges against Mr. Lloydsmith were dropped in early 2008, with the officer involved saying the offence had been relatively minor. But three years later, the RCMP forwarded the file to the Civil Forfeiture Office, which moved to seize the home.

The Globe and Mail has reported extensively on the Civil Forfeiture Office, which seizes property associated with criminal activity.

It was introduced as a way to fight organized crime, but has come to have a far broader reach. It does not need a conviction or charges to pursue a case, and critics have questioned some of the files it takes on, calling it a cash cow. B.C.’s office has taken in millions of dollars more than a similar agency in Ontario, despite opening three years later.Mr. Lloydsmith, in a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, accuses the office of negligence and misfeasance. The B.C. Minister of Public Safety, the B.C. Minister of Justice and the RCMP are also named as defendants.

“Mr. Lloydsmith states, quite simply, that his life started to go into disarray following [the officer’s] unlawful entry into his home and use of force against him on October 15, 2007, remained in disarray in the years that followed, [and] went into further disarray following the initiation of the [office’s] civil forfeiture claim against him,” the lawsuit says.

The allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed in late April, have not been proven and the defendants have not filed their response.

The Minister of Public Safety wrote in a statement that it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter because it is before the courts.

An RCMP spokesperson said it has not yet been served with the lawsuit, but will respond through its statement of defence.

Bibhas Vaze, Mr. Lloydsmith’s lawyer, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Mr. Lloydsmith, now 59, was receiving a partial disability pension in 2007, although the lawsuit says that pension was terminated last year. He worked as an electrician before then, and the lawsuit says he is now working part-time. He is seeking general damages, aggravated damages, costs and any other relief the court deems fit.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge in April, 2013, ruled the RCMP breached Mr. Lloydsmith’s Charter rights by searching his home without a warrant, unduly arresting him and not allowing him to contact a lawyer immediately.

The Civil Forfeiture Office nonetheless pressed on with its case. Although the judge had ruled that what to do about the Charter violations would have to be determined before the case could proceed, the office appealed that decision. It lost at the B.C. Court of Appeal in February, 2014. The appeal court, in its decision, noted the system’s power imbalance could put ordinary citizens at the office’s mercy.

The office abandoned its pursuit of Mr. Lloydsmith’s home two months later. Since his case was heard, defendants in other civil-forfeiture cases have pushed to have Charter concerns addressed at the outset – potentially forgoing the cost of a full trial. The office has opposed such requests.

Mr. Lloydsmith’s lawsuit says both the Civil Forfeiture Office and the RCMP owed him a duty of care. He said their conduct caused him significant anxiety and fear, and the forfeiture case in particular pushed him into depression.

British Columbia’s forfeiture office abused power, lawsuit says - The Globe and Mail