Tuesday, 22 January 2013


In 2011 the British Columbia provincial government became the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce so-called administrative forfeiture. With administrative forfeiture the Office of Civil Forfeiture in British Columbia does not have to initiate legal proceedings to effect forfeiture if the amount involved is under $75,000.00. The Office can seize property without going to court simply if it has "reason to believe" it is the proceeds or an instrument of crime and even if no crime is proven or charged. If the seizure goes uncontested, the Crown gets to keep it. In most cases it is the police who do the actual seizure of goods or cash.
The administrative forfeiture provision reverses the litigation process - it is the owner who has to take the government to court to get his property back. An administrative forfeiture can be opposed by the owner of the property but if a notice of dispute is not filed within sixty days the forfeiture process is over. The reality is that the owner has to initiate the expensive legal proceedings required to defend his property.
The provincial government’s attorney general department under the egregious direction of Shirley Bond publishes a list of administrative forfeitures that have occurred throughout the province. That list includes the sum of $790 seized in Williams Lake, $770 seized in Langley, $700 seized in Victoria, $935 Canadian and $163.00 US seized in Vancouver, $495.10 seized at another Victoria location, $785 seized in Mission, $690 seized in Burnaby, $435 seized in View Royal (together with a 2003 Chevrolet), $415 seized in Powell River and so on and so on and so on.
A 1998 Subaru Legacy was seized at a second location in View Royal. Far removed from your hundred thousand dollar recent model BMW. The list does not give any details as to the alleged associated crime. It seems unlikely that the police would have had any evidence that this 14-year-old vehicle was purchased with proceeds of crime. Perhaps a small amount of drug was found in this vehicle?
The list does not specify if there were any criminal charges associated with the seizure of these small amounts of money but then with civil forfeiture there does not have to be a criminal charge or a provincial offence charge let alone a conviction. The translation of the word "administrative" into real English is "arbitrary and secretive".
What is really happening here? Are the cops seizing proceeds of crime or is this the state stealing the grocery and rental money. Likely what does happen is that the police enter a residence, find something illegal like a small quantity of marijuana or other drugs and then look for any cash that happens to be in the cookie jar on the kitchen counter. Not exactly big-time proceeds of crime. The police simply have to fill out a short form and lo and behold the cash is effectively confiscated. 
While technically the owners the cash could file a dispute notice they probably will not do so very often - they are savvy to the idea that disputing confiscation will only lead to more trouble from the authorities including an actual charge and besides they do not have the skills to fight it themselves or the money to hire a lawyer to do it for them.
What we have in effect then is a system which can fine people without any type of legal process. In fact in many respects it is more akin to legalized theft than a fine since there is no set amount which is levied and the amount confiscated bears no specific relationship to any crime.
While BC might have been the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce administrative forfeiture it is common in the United States and as can be expected abuses invariably arise. The Philadelphia’s District Attorneys Office is particularly notorious and seizes over $6 million in asset forfeiture annually. It is said that most of these proceeds comes from seizing cash and currency. Apparently since 2010 there has been apparently over 8,300 currency forfeiture cases with the average amount of cash taken in a currency forfeiture case being $550. Some cases involved amounts less than $100 which as stated in a review belies "the myth that forfeiture mainly takes money from drug kingpins."
B.C.’s grandmotherly Shirley Bond talks about getting the bad guy twice (believe it or not, an attorney-general who does not have the slightest notion of "double jeopardy). What we have with administrative forfeiture is the abuse and the potential for the further abuse of power that you normally associate with a totalitarian state. Most people dumbly think that they don’t have to worry about their own property being confiscated because they are not bad guys. Civil forfeiture, however, can be initiated in connection with a breach of many provincial offences including regulatory offences and traffic offences. You make an illegal left hand turn and then you annoy the cop that pulls you over - you may find yourself in the market for a replacement vehicle. You breach a health regulation at the small restaurant you own and operate and you may find your till being emptied by an aggressive safety inspector.

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