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Civil Forfeiture

Have the police seized your property?

Have you received a Notice of Intent to Commence Forfeiture in the mail, or been served with a Notice of Civil Claim?

Time is of the essence. Call our office now for assistance. 

What is Civil Asset Forfeiture? 

Civil Forfeiture, also known as Civil Asset Forfeiture, is a program operated by the BC Provincial Government under the authority of the Civil Forfeiture Act. The government, through the Director of Civil Forfeiture, files a lawsuit in BC Supreme Court to confiscate assets deemed to be “Proceeds of Unlawful Activity  and “Instruments of Unlawful Activity”.

“Proceeds” refers to profit obtained through unlawful activity, such as:

  • Cash
  • Stolen goods
  • Assets purchased with unlawfully obtained money, such as jewelry, vehicles, and even real estate (land and buildings)

 “Instruments” refers to assets that have been been used to generate unlawful profit or are likely to be used in a manner that is likely to cause serious bodily harm, such as:

  • Vehicles used to sell drugs or steal property
  • Equipment used to manufacture drugs
  • Land and/or buildings used in unlawful operations
  • Vehicles driven in a manner that puts the public at risk

Civil forfeiture is separate and distinct from criminal court proceedings.  

A simple way to understand civil forfeiture is that the PROPERTY is on trial, not the person.

Under the Civil Forfeiture Act, assets can be frozen, possessed by, and forfeited to the Director of Civil Forfeiture even if:

  • You have not been charged with a crime
  • The criminal charges against you have been withdrawn
  • The criminal charges against you have been stayed
  • You have been found not guilty of criminal offence at trial

Criminal charges are a prosecution against a person. Civil forfeiture is a lawsuit against property, offically called an “in rem” proceeding.

In criminal proceedings, you are facing the Crown in criminal court. In civil forfeiture proceedings, you are facing the Director of Civil Forfeiture in civil court. The Crown and the Director are separate and do not have anything to do with each other. 

The Charge

Civil forfeiture is concerned with property. The purpose of the Civil Forfeiture Office is to commence proceedings against assets that has been acquired through unlawful acts (“Proceeds”) or used to commit unlawful acts (“Instruments”). 

Civil forfeiture proceedings typically arise out of drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud, and theft investigations. However, any unlawful activity that may generate unlawful profit can be subject to civil forfeiture proceedings. 

Civil forfeiture can also be used against property that is being used in a manner that is likely to cause serious bodily harm (ex. dangerous driving) 

Vehicles that that have been used to flee from police or contain an after-market compartment are also subject to forfeiture. 

The Process

1. Police Seizure 

The process begins when the police seize property during an investigation; typically, cash, jewellery, vehicles, and sometimes even real estate (land and buildings). Property must be seized in accordance with the Charter and the Criminal Code, or any other legislation authorizing seizure of property. 

The police have several options regarding what they can do with the seized property. One option available is to forward the property to the Civil Forfeiture Office to be forfeited to the government if there is evidence the property was:

a) obtained illegally
b) used to generate profit through illegal means,
c) used in a manner likely to cause serious bodily harm, or
d) satisfies any of the other enumerated criteria in s. 19 – s. 19.05 of the Civil Forfeiture Act


2. Forfeiture Decision

After the property is forwarded by the police to the Civil Forfeiture Office, the Director of Civil Forfeiture reviews the file and can initiate proceedings to forfeit the property to the government. 

If you are the owner of property valued over $75,000 or the owner of real property (land), the Director of Civil Forfeiture will file a lawsuit against you in BC Supreme Court. They will then serve you with a Notice of Civil Claim. You must then file a Response to Civil Claim with the court registry and fight for your property in a civil court proceeding. 

If the property is under $75,000 in value and not real property, you will be sent a Notice of Intent to Commence Forfeiture in the mail to your last known address. If you move frequently or do not have a permanent address, the Notice of Intent to Commence Forfeiture is also published weekly in the BC Gazette under “Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General”

If your property is less than $75,000 and not real property, you must respond to the Notice using the required dispute form within 60 days from the post-mark on the Notice or the date it was published in the Gazette. If you do not respond or if you fill out the form incorrectly, your property is automatically forfeited to the government without further notice on the deadline date. 

If you respond to the Notice of Intent, the Director of Civil Forfeiture must then file a lawsuit against you in BC Supreme Court or return your property. 


3. Court Proceedings

Civil Forfeiture proceedings occur in civil court, not criminal court. 

In civil court, the Director of Civil Forfeiture must prove on a balance of probabilities that the property was used or obtained unlawfully; this means the judge must be only 51% sure that your property is Proceeds or an Instrument of Unlawful Activity. This is different from criminal court, where charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Unlike criminal proceedings, in civil court you may be obligated to provide evidence in your own defence. This may include documents and witness testimony. Further, you do not have the right to not testify in your own defence. You may be compelled to give oral evidence in a civil court process called “Examination for Discovery that can then be used in the civil court proceedings. 

Recent Successes

R. vs. T.L. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Indecent Act; Mischief (reduced to Peace Bond).
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove that our client intended to commit a criminal offence.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on the the criminal charges upon our client entering into a Peace Bond. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.I. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Given the Covid-19 pandemic, whether it was appropriate to refer our client into the Alternative Measures Program for this assault by spitting offence.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide Crown counsel with compelling information about our client which resulted in Crown allowing our client into Alternative Measures and staying the charge upon our client completing the program. No criminal record.

R. vs. T.F. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon; Uttering Threats x2; Unlawful Confinement.
Issues: Whether Crown could prove that a weapon was used or that the complainant was unlawfully confined.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to accept pleas to the lesser charges of common assault and uttering a threat. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions on our client's behalf, the trail judge granted our client a conditional discharge. No jail; no permanent criminal record.

R. vs. D.D. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving while prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prohibited driving charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the lesser charge of driving without possessing a valid driver's licence. Rather than the 12 month minimum mandatory driving prohibition, our client received a 4 month prohibition.

R. vs. J.L. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest to continue with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on the assault charge upon you entering into a s. 810 peace bond. No criminal record.

R. vs. R.M. - Insurance fraud investigation

Charge: Fraud Under $5000.
Issue: Whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the prosecution in this extended health insurance fraud matter.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to negotiate a civil settlement and to persuade the investigator to not pursue a prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. D.P. - Vancouver provincial Court

Charge: Uttering a Threat (reduced to Peace Bond).
Issues: Whether the words uttered were clearly a threat or not.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel that the words were vague. Crown agreed to end the criminal prosecution upon our client entering into a Peace Bond with a "no contact" condition. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.R. - Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charges: Mischief to Property (x2).
Issue: Whether, given our client's circumstances, it was appropriate to continue the criminal prosecution of this matter which involved damage in excess of $5000 to two vehicles.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to allow our client into the Alternative Measures Program and to stay both criminal charges upon completion. No criminal record.

R. vs. V. P. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault, Uttering Threats.
Issue: Given the context of this threatening and assault by spitting offence, whether it was appropriate for our client to be convicted.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided additional information to the Crown and the Court about our client and was able to persuade the judge to grant our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. P. I. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual Assault (reduced to assault).
Issue: Given our client's mental health issues, whether it was in the public interest for Crown to continue with the sex assault prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide information top Crown counsel and to persuade Crown to proceed with a charge of common assault. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. no criminal conviction. no jail, no sex offender registry.

R. vs. J.K. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault Causing Bodily Harm; Choking; Uttering Threats (domestic).
Issue: Whether the complainant's allegation was credible, given the alibi evidence Mr. Johnson was able to provide to Crown counsel.
Result: Based on Mr. Johnson's representations, Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings on all charges. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. L.J.A. - New Westminter Provincial Court

Charges: Assault Causing Bodily Harm, Threatening, Mischief to property, Resist Arrest.
Issue: Whether our client would be sentenced to the 4 month jail sentence Crown was seeking.
Result: On the eve of the trial date, Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown to only proceed on the assault causing bodily harm charge and, after hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the court granted our client a suspended sentence. Crown stayed the remaining charges. No jail.

The Defence

The Civil Forfeiture Act is a very powerful piece of legislation. It is important to know that fighting the Civil Forfeiture Office will involve a lot of time and effort on your part. 

It is also important to know that there are very strict timelines to file the various documents. It is crucial that you respond to correspondence from the Civil Forfeiture Office immediately. 

You are defending yourself in a lawsuit, and thus the rules of evidence are very different from a criminal prosecution. You will likely have to provide evidence in your defence. The Civil Forfeiture Office does not have to disclose their entire case to you upfront. This is notably different from the rules in criminal proceedings, where the Crown has the onus to prove the case against you and must provide you with disclosure of all the evidence they intend to rely on. 

Preventing proceedings against the seized assets 

If the police have seized your property but you have not received a Notice from the Civil Forfeiture Office, our team will negotiate with the police agency and/or the Civil Forfeiture Office to return your property before they initiate proceedings.  

The Property is not Proceeds and/or not an Instrument of Unlawful Activity 

To defend a civil forfeiture action, you must be able to provide evidence that the property was lawfully acquired. This often involves providing bank statements, pay stubs, and bills of sale. 

You may have to provide evidence that the property was not used to generate unlawful profit or was not used in a dangerous manner. This will involve producing evidence on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances of the allegation. 

Forfeiture is not in the interests of justice 

Proportionality and fairness must govern civil forfeiture proceedings. 

If the Director of Civil Forfeiture files a lawsuit against you, you may be able to argue that the value of the forfeiture is disproportionate to the severity of the alleged offence. 

You may also argue that the forfeiture is unfair. This defence is often used when innocent parties are prejudiced by the forfeiture of the property. Commonly, this defence is used when the owner of the property is unaware that the property is being used unlawfully by someone else. 

Charter Breaches 

The police must obey the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter rules pertaining to the admissibility of evidence apply to civil forfeiture proceedings. “Bifurcation” is the term used in civil court to describe the process to argue that the evidence was gathered in breach of the Charter and should be excluded, akin to a criminal voire dire. Our team at Mines & Company has extensive experience making Charter challenges and will pursue every angle to exclude unlawfully gathered evidence. 

Settlement

Criminal proceedings are “all or nothing;” you are either guilty or not guilty. Civil Forfeiture is very different. 

Civil forfeiture is not “all or nothing.” Because it is a civil proceeding, it is possible to reach an out of court settlement to agree to only forfeit a percentage of the property’s value. This is achieved through negotiations with the Director of Civil Forfeiture and may involve participating in formal mediation. Settlement has the benefit of reducing the amount of time and money spent defending against a civil forfeiture action. 

Civil Asset Forfeiture is a complex and intimidating area of law. Don’t fight it alone.
Mines & Company has the knowledge and the experience to help you recover your seized property. 

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.