Tuesday, 13 March 2012


Michael Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is the province’s most articulate opponent of civil forfeiture. On the other side of the debate is +Shirley Bond, British Columbia’s Solicitor-General and Attorney-General. We have previously referred to Shirley as "Big Sister" but perhaps a better description would be "Grand Nanny". A good Nanny state like B.C. obviously needs a Grand Nanny and it would be difficult to find a better one than our Shirley.

Minister Bond recently announced that the Civil Forfeiture Office had realized $10.8 million from seizing cars, homes and helicopters over the last year. She gleefully boasted "With civil forfeiture, bad guys lose twice. Not only do they see the courts taking away tools and proceeds of unlawful activity, which cuts into their bottom line; they also see us use the proceeds to fight and remediate crime in communities."

BCCLA policy director +Micheal Vonn responded "To be showcasing the booty of this program should be offensive to many citizens ... because we've seen time and time again, these are not the proceeds of crime."

There was a high profile case last year concerning 13 high-end sports cars allegedly involved in a street race through Surrey and White Rock. The Mounties were not able to show that a particular car was used in a specific crime and did not even recommend Motor Vehicle Act charges against the young (Asian) drivers. Nevertheless through the agency of the Civil Forfeiture Office the government was able to seize and sell off the vehicles -- some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Vonn said that punishment was shockingly disproportionate to the alleged crime, and left the door open for the government to apply for all kinds of inappropriate forfeitures. She said."If [Shirley Bond] were to be over the speed limit at any juncture, would she be happy to lose her car for that? Would that suit her? Would she address herself as a bad guy? If you're going to say the jaywalker is a bad guy and he's wearing a $5,000 suit, should we be able to go after it?"

Ms. Vonn asked those questions because the commission of any offence which might be dangerous (to someone), provincial or federal, including any of the myriad of offences under the Motor Vehicle Act, makes the asset, that is used (your car) in the commission of the offence, subject to forfeiture.

One can fully appreciate Michael Vonn’s sarcastic comments about our Grand Nanny. Minister Bond says that what is great about the civil forfeiture process is that you get the bad guys twice. When somebody gets punished twice for the same offense it is called double jeopardy. Double jeopardy is not supposed to be a good thing and it is obvious that Bond is completely ignorant about the legal concept.

But let’s get back to Grand Nanny’s designation of certain people as bad guys. To truly understand what Ms. Bond means by Bad Guys it is necessary to introduce a new acronym. That acronym is PAT which stands for politically acceptable target or in the plural "PATS". 

A former premier of British Columbia who had a driving incident in Hawaii would not be a Politically Acceptable Target (the Civil Forfeiture Act extends to offenses that occur outside of B.C. if it would have been an offense if committed in B.C.). Gaglardi, the highways minister in the WAC Bennett Socred government was famous for getting speeding tickets. It is unlikely, however, that a cabinet minister with a propensity for picking up speeding tickets would ever be a PAT. It’s unlikely that a middle-aged, middle-class, European background lady who makes an illegal right-hand turn would be a PAT.

Juricana had an earlier article about how the (even handed) application of forfeiture could result in the seizure of a pulp mill. But large forest companies are no PATsies.

Now we do not want to introduce the race card into a discussion about civil forfeiture but we can’t help noting some coincidences; for example, that a typical PAT is a rich Asian kid driving a Maserati or an East Indian guy renting out two or three rundown houses waiting to be demolished.

This basically comes down to the problem with the civil forfeiture office. It takes on certain targets who will not garner public support. Criminal code offenses we hope will be prosecuted in a detached and evenhanded manner. This is not the case with civil forfeiture where a small band of bureaucrats in the Civil Forfeiture Office can cherry pick cases and the apply the bad guy branding. The bottom line is that the statute and its huge fines are not applied evenly. The bureaucrats must restrict themselves to Politically Acceptable Targets.

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