New Constitutional Challenge Argues B.C. Civil Forfeiture Regime Violates Charter

Article by Sunny Dhillon, Globe and Mail

New constitutional challenge argues B.C. civil forfeiture regime violates Charter. A new constitutional challenge argues that B.C.'s civil forfeiture regime violates the Charter of Rights.

British Columbia’s civil forfeiture regime violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by forcing individuals to produce evidence against themselves and by resulting in penalties that are grossly disproportionate, says a new constitutional challenge.

The case, which will proceed to trial in B.C. Supreme Court in November, stems from a 2015 police search of a multimillion-dollar home on Vancouver’s west side that turned up hundreds of marijuana plants. It is expected to be the second constitutional case involving B.C.’s Civil Forfeiture Office heard this year; a case involving the Hells Angels is scheduled for April.

The Globe and Mail has reported extensively on the Civil Forfeiture Office, which was established as a way to fight organized crime but has come to have a far broader reach. The office does not need a criminal conviction or even charges to pursue a file. The Globe has interviewed those who have had to fight to keep their homes, vehicles, money and even a coin collection. Others have been unable to afford to argue their case.

B.C.’s NDP government, which had called for a review of the province’s Civil Forfeiture Act when it was in opposition, has since said it does not plan to order one. The province’s Public Safety Minister, Mike Farnworth, has said the office is operating as it should.

Bibhas Vaze, a lawyer for the homeowner in the most recent case, said in an interview that the file “brings together all the different elements about what is wrong with civil forfeiture and why there needs to be changes.”

In its notice of civil claim, the Civil Forfeiture Office said the defendant, Kwok Wai (Andy) Liu, purchased the home in March, 2012. It said Mr. Liu granted the Vancouver Police Department access to the property in September, 2015, at which point officers discovered approximately 700 to 750 marijuana plants.

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