Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Saskatchewan government expands civil forfeiture

Amendment could strip innocent people of their homes, critics warn | Regina Leader-Post - Arthur White-Crummey:

April 30, 2019 - "A Saskatoon defence lawyer said new civil forfeiture rules passed on Tuesday will line the pockets of his profession at the expense of people trying to hold onto their homes. 'I fully expect this to be a profitable area of practice, unfortunately, on the backs of our citizens, some of whom are going to be completely innocent of any wrongdoing,' Brian Pfefferle said of amendments to Saskatchewan’s Seizure of Criminal Property Act....

"The act governs the civil forfeiture process, laying out when and how the government can seize property allegedly connected to criminal activity. The changes mean that owners of property linked to sexual offences, gang or terrorist activity or impaired driving will have a harder time defending themselves. The burden will now be on them, rather than the Crown, to make their case. If they fail, the province could potentially take their vehicle, or even their home.

"Critics are especially worried that the amendments also apply to property subjected to community safety orders, which are not criminal. In their view, it means a person could lose their house without even being charged — let alone convicted — of an offence. 'Hopefully that doesn’t happen very often, but it’s certainly possible, because there’s no due process in that legislation,' Pfefferle said....

"NDP ... justice critic Nicole Sarauer [said] that perhaps 80 per cent of those facing forfeiture make do without a lawyer, as Legal Aid doesn’t doesn’t work on forfeiture cases. She warned that the changes will further stack the deck against them.... She said she’s seen community safety orders issued against an alleged drug dealer living at home with his mother.... 'For that mother now to have to lose their home because of this situation is quite devastating,' she said.

"Tammy Pryznyk, the ministry’s director of civil forfeiture, ... said her department chooses its cases 'wisely'. Sarauer said it’s dangerous for the legislation to leave that up to the Crown, adding there hasn’t been enough work to study the consequences of the legislation.... The criminal bar was not consulted on the amendments, officials confirmed.

"The money from civil forfeiture goes to support victims of crime, but also to pay for police operations. Pfefferle believes that creates 'bad optics'....

"Even if the safeguards work, Pfefferle thinks clients will be poorer for it. He’s said he’s already seen people spend thousands on legal bills while fighting forfeiture, and warned it will now happen more often. 'It’s going to cause significant costs for arguably innocent people,' he said."

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