Thursday, 31 May 2012


Who opposes civil forfeiture in Canada?

It is a diverse group extending from left to right.

In B.C. the N.D.P, tinged B.C. Civil Liberties Association lead the fight. The Association’s articulate spoke person on this file is Michael Vonn who has given numerous talks explaining why civil forfeiture is incompatible with civil liberties.

Ontario was the first province to introduce modern forfeiture legislation to Canada and it was during the right-wing Harris (Conservative) administration. In fact the Attorney-General who put forth the legislation was none other than Jim Flaherty. At the time of the introduction of the legislation Karen Selleck, a far right-wing gadfly, wrote one of the best articles opposing the forfeiture legislation. She said:

James Flaherty, Ontario's Attorney-General, yesterday introduced legislation allowing police officers to seize assets, without notice and without laying charges, from persons suspected of organized criminal activity. Cash, vehicles, boats, houses or anything else an officer suspects might be proceeds of crime will be subject to confiscation.

This appears to be the latest in a series of new measures designed to demonstrate how tough Ontario Tories are on law-and-order issues. However, citizens have a right to demand respect for the law, not only from common criminals but also from those who govern us. Sadly, Mr. Flaherty's proposal lacks this respect in several ways.

The then Liberal opposition also opposed the legislation but once in power they became enthusiastic supporters of forfeiture and have amended the Act to make it even more one-sided.

A different type of big "L" Liberal enacted forfeiture legislation in B.C. The B.C. Liberals are inordinately proud of the legislation and proclaim on a web-site: "British Columbia is one of two provinces that pioneered the use of civil forfeiture in Canada to deter unlawful activity by taking away instruments and proceeds of it. Today, seven provinces have civil forfeiture programs."

Although the B.C. Civil Liberties Assn has fought hard against forfeiture in B.C., the NDP opposition has limply supported it. They actually joined the Illiberals in voting for the horrendous 2011 amendments which introduced the Orwellian "administrative forfeiture". Why? Perhaps they genuinely disagree with their Civil Liberty cousins. More likely they think that civil forfeiture is popular with the public and that it would not be politically wise to oppose it. 

They also appear to be paralyzed by the fear that they might be branded as soft on crime. In this respect the modern day NDP is a sad come-down from its CCF ancestor which stuck out its neck to fight the previous round of forfeiture carried out in B.C. by a government bearing (at least partly) the Liberal name tag (actually a coalition of sorts of Liberals and Conservatives but mostly Liberal). I am referring, of course, to the seizure of the property of Japanese Canadians during World War II. 

The business community has also been silent on civil forfeiture. They don’t seem to be alarmed that civil forfeiture is fundamentally an attack on property rights. We have pointed out in a previous post (Forfeiture of a Pulp Mill) that the legislation could be turned into an instrument for the legal confiscation of private industry. Perhaps the business community feel confident that they will always have friends in government; perhaps they are afraid to bolster the NDP in any way by being critical of the Liberal government. 

What is interesting is that civil forfeiture has not usually been introduced by ideological extremists but rather by governments who would self identify as moderately right of centre or moderately left of centre. It is ironic that today some of the biggest threats to civil liberties come from the so-called middle of the political spectrum.

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