Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Canadian forfeiture programs get failing grades

B.C., Ontario civil-forfeiture programs get failing grades, report says - The Globe and Mail - Sunny Dhillon:

"Civil-forfeiture programs have trampled on the rights of Canadians, seized property from innocent people and are neither transparent nor accountable, a new report says....

"Marni Soupcoff, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a Calgary-based non-profit that aims to protect constitutional freedoms, said its report shows innocent people have been hurt by the use of civil forfeiture.

"'The part that I don’t think people currently know is you could lose your property in a process that treats you more harshly than a criminal gets treated, even if you’re not suspected of having done anything wrong,' she said in an interview Monday.

"The 58-page report examines the rise of civil-forfeiture programs in Canada, starting with their inception in Ontario in the early 2000s and leading to today, when eight provinces have such offices.

"The report says the offices were originally intended to deter crime and compensate victims but 'rarely accomplish these stated goals.' It said revenue generated through successful forfeiture proceedings is instead more likely to be returned to the provincial government involved, or to law enforcement agencies.

"The report went on to say that because civil-forfeiture cases are tried in civil court, with a lower standard of proof than criminal court, the provinces can 'choose to initiate civil-forfeiture proceedings against individuals in circumstances where there is not enough evidence to merit criminal charges, let alone result in a conviction.'

"The Canadian Constitution Foundation also accused civil-forfeiture programs of a lack of transparency. It said none of the eight offices is required to release information on how much money has been collected and paid out. It said none of the offices has been reviewed by a provincial auditor-general and, when faced with criticism, the offices have sometimes tried to shield themselves by pointing to grants given to charities – a tactic referred to as a “charity wash.”

"The foundation made five recommendations in all, including calls for each office to report its finances annually. It also said civil forfeiture should only be used after a property owner has been convicted of a provincial offence.

"Micheal Vonn, policy director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which has long raised concerns about the use of civil forfeiture in Canada, said the new report is 'most welcome.'

"'The most important thing that they really highlight, that I think is the part that virtually everyone in the public can understand, is that part of the danger of this is that there’s no accountability,' she said in an interview."

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