Tuesday, 11 October 2011


The British Columbia Liberal government has a fondness for passing and implementing draconic authoritarian legislation giving sweeping power to bureaucrats and police.

Probably the most draconic piece of legislation is the Civil Forfeiture Act which essentially provides that property allegedly used in a crime can be forfeited to the state. This legislation was ostensibly introduced to prevent criminals from profiting from their illegal activities. Other Canadian provinces have similar legislation but in British Columbia forfeiture is being used more extensively than anywhere else in the country. 

The act is administered by the Orwellian named Office of Civil Forfeiture. Recently the Office of Civil forfeiture initiated forfeiture proceedings respecting a multimillion dollar residence in West Vancouver. This residence is owned by a woman who was charged with human trafficking. More particularly the owner is charged with keeping another woman in a condition of near slavery for approximately one year. The owner of the house denies the charge.

At this point there is no conviction, only a charge. This important fact did not prevent the Office Of Civil Forfeiture from starting forfeiture proceedings. Since it only necessary to meet a civil standard of proof, it is quite possible that the owner will not be convicted of the crime but will be severely punished by having a valuable property taken from her. In fact this enormous "fine" could exceed the punishment that she would receive if criminally convicted.

The second aspect of forfeiture in this case is that the state also steals the remedy from the alleged victim. If the alleged victim successful sues the home owner for the money she should have been paid or for damages generally (such as for false imprisonment or for aggravated or punitive damages), she may be left with a hollow judgment because the state has already seized the asset available to satisfy the judgment. Now the state can, of course, "give" some of the funds realized from the forfeiture to the victim but it is their choice. They don’t have to give her anything. 

What is most alarming is that there is little opposition to the government’s authoritarian and out of control use of forfeiture legislation. Particularly silent are right-wing defenders of property rights. Similarly there has been barely a whimper from B.C. lawyers. Ironically the only party that appears to be fighting forfeiture abuse is the N.D.P. tinged B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

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