Friday, 18 November 2011


One of the most egregious (and now famous) civil forfeiture initiatives in the United States concerns a budget motel in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. 

This motel has been owned and operated by the Caswell family for two generations. The Caswells have paid off the motel’s mortgage in full and look after the business while living next door with a 91-year-old mother, their son and daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

Both in the U.S. and Canada old motels - mostly built in the 1950's - have become a form of last resort housing for the down and out.  Sometimes they become homes for drug users and dealers. 

This happened to a minor degree with the Motel Caswell.  The owners co-operated as best as they could with the police but not all tenants were sterling citizens.  There was a small amount of illegal drug use and drug dealing taking place in the rented rooms of this budget motel.

In jumps the Tewksbury police who invited the Feds to adopt a forfeiture action under a so-called "equitable sharing" program.  The Federal equitable sharing program apparently has resulted in an expansion of civil forfeitures because local police often get to keep a higher percentage of forfeited proceeds and the federal government’s standards of proof are more lax than forfeiture proceedings in states like Massachusetts.  

So a money making opportunity beckoned.  The result of a successful forfeiture respecting this mortgage free motel will be that the Tewksbury police will reap a million plus dollars and the Feds the balance of sale proceeds.  The Caswells will be left with nothing. 

There is no evidence that the Caswells had any knowledge of any criminal activity taking place at the motel but like with the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Act that does not matter.  They have been forced to fight an enormously expensive forfeiture proceeding.

Old motels in B.C. have also been threatened with forfeiture proceedings.  This is despite the fact that the addicted people who are living in these places are often referred there in the first place by the police and social workers.

In the Caswell case the local police resorted to Federal legislation in order to avoid the more stringent Federal legislation.  It is the opposite in British Columbia where the provincial government uses the Civil Forfeiture Act to circumvent the much more stringent forfeiture type provisions in the federal Criminal Code.

The irony is that while government is cracking down on privately owned houses and motels where illegal drug use is taking place, they are spending millions to create their own version of the same thing.  They are called low barrier housing projects.  Low barrier means that continued drug and alcohol abuse is not a barrier to living in these developments.  Projects like Warmlands in Duncan elicit the usual high volume of police call outs.  

The City of Victoria now owns and operates several former motels and cater to the same type of tenants - mostly drug addicts.  These “facilities” are the subject of numerous police call outs and are upsetting to neighbors.   They are demonstrably no better than the old Holiday Court Motel on Hillside Avenue in Victoria which was closed down several years ago because it was heavily used by users and dealers.

What its shows is that government doesn’t mind addiction - whether it is drugs, alcohol or gambling - so long as it is controlling it and, even better, profiting from it.  

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