B.C. seeks cash seized in drug bust

Civil forfeiture proceedings requires a lower standard
of proof

The Civil Forfeiture Act allows the province to initiate civil court proceedings against property believed to be the instruments or proceeds of unlawful activity.

The province is going after cash seized in a drug-bust in Pitt Meadows, although Crown failed to get a conviction on criminal charges earlier this year.

A civil forfeiture notice was filed last month for $6,190 in cash, which was found after police executed a search warrant at a townhouse in Pitt Meadows, Dec. 17, 2009.

Christopher Harmes, who was on probation at the time, was taken into custody the same day and eventually faced 11 charges, including six related to firearms and four counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking a controlled substance.

A 9 mm handgun, a M1 carbine assault rifle, ammunition for both, as well as marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and money were seized from the townhouse.

Police alleged Harmes was dealing drugs from the Ford Road co-op, but he was acquitted of the charges in May after his father laid claim to the illegal stash.

The Civil Forfeiture Act allows the province to initiate civil court proceedings against property believed to be the instruments or proceeds of unlawful activity.

Ridge Meadows RCMP see the court proceedings as another crime-fighting tool.

“Ridge Meadows RCMP believe that the money seized was proceeds from the sale and distribution of illegal drugs and this qualifies for civil forfeiture under proceeds of crime,” said Cpl. Shawn Baly, with Ridge Meadows RCMP’s Street Enforcement Unit.

The civil forfeiture proceedings require a lower standard of proof than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt and require the owner to take the government to court to get his or her property back.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association sees the use of civil forfeiture proceedings as an abuse of the legislation that circumvents due process.

“It is very concerning that they would pursue forfeiture in a situation where they were unable to get a criminal conviction,” said executive director David Eby.

“It means that even if you win your criminal trial now, you are still not out of the woods. To defend yourself on a civil forfeiture application can cost thousands of dollars.”

Last month, the province began proceedings to seize five high-end cars involved in an alleged street race.

“Civil forfeiture was sold to the public as going after gang members, but we are increasing seeing it go down a slippery slope where it’s being used for everything from speeding offences to situations where people haven’t being convicted of any crime,” said Eby.

To date, the province has won all of the 250 civil forfeiture cases it has pursued. So far, $17 million in proceeds have been forfeited to the province, including $5.3 million in 2010.

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