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Civil libertarians decry asset-seizure law

By Hempology | April 27, 2006

CRIME WONT PAY: Pursuing a life of crime just got a little more risky in British Columbia.
The provincial government quietly brought into force its Civil Forfeiture Act on Friday.
Its a controversial piece of legislation that will enable the province to seize assets of suspected wrongdoers without necessarily having a criminal conviction first.

The law enables government to go to B.C. Supreme Court and apply for a decision to seize and sell goods acquired through unlawful activity.
A decision on whether such a forfeiture order is granted will be made by a judge based on the civil court balance of probabilities rather than on the stricter criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
This law will help us take the profit out of organized crime and other illegal activities, and will also let us help the victims of those crimes, Solicitor General John Les said upon enacting the bill.
The legislation will allow assets such as cars, houses and boats to be seized and sold. Proceeds will go to compensate victims and support crime-prevention programs, among other things.
OBJECTION, YOUR HONOUR: The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, as one might expect, is vehemently opposed to the new legislation.
President Jason Gratl said the act is outside the provinces jurisdiction because the Criminal Code is federal territory.
The greatest weakness of this legislation is that it will tend to penalize a property holder disproportionately, unfairly and without just cause, Gratl said.
Gratl contends the legislation specifically targets marijuana growops and that innocent property owners whose tenants engage in illegal activities could risk losing their homes as a result.
The association also argues that the reverse onus of the legislation will force people to prove their innocence rather than prosecutors having to prove their guilt. Innocent people might also have to spend thousands on legal fees to keep their property, he said.
UP TO THE COURTS: Victoria lawyer and former RCMP officer Rob Kroeker has been named director of a program that will implement and administer the new civil-proceeds-of-crime law.
Kroeker said innocent people will not be targeted. The court will decide whether forfeiture is justified, not the government, he said.
You have to prove illegal activity and you have to prove the proceeds came through some sort of illegal act, Kroeker said.
The B.C. act was modelled after one in Ontario that recently survived a challenge in that provinces Supreme Court.
That was at the forefront as the legislation was drafted, Kroeker said, when asked if the B.C. government is confident its law will withstand challenges.
It was researched very, very thoroughly by government lawyers.

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