Civil forfeiture review needed, says MLA

Seizure of property in Terrace by law enforcement entity causes Robin Austin to call for stricter oversight.

The intent behind the BC Civil Forfeiture program is a good idea but it still needs to be reviewed to ensure it’s being fairly applied, says Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin.

“The intent of the law is a good one to punish organized crime,” said Austin.

“I think what we’re concerned about in some instances where people are not charged and convicted – we’re concerned there’s not enough transparency and oversight.”

“In terms of seizing property, I think it’s better oversight to be sure the asset comes from crime.”

Austin added that current and former Liberal MLAs have also called for a review of civil forfeiture.

This comes after  provincial NDP public safety critic Kathy Corrigan called for a review of the program Feb. 4 after several criticisms of the program not being fair.

And locally, the latest civil forfeiture involves the home of Ellen New, 74, in Thornhill after a  charge of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking against her was stayed by the court in October 2012 after going through the court system for two years.

Her home at 3810 Pine Ave. plus $2,860 seized by police were ordered forfeited in July  2013.

“I would hope that person would go to the ombudsman,” said Austin, adding that any time a person thinks he’s been unfairly treated by the government, the ombudsman is there to look into it.

“We want to make sure we don’t go and do something wrong against somebody who has not done anything wrong. That’s why I think it’s important to look at the law again and recognize there’s consequences and find a way to have oversight.”

Two other residences in Terrace had been forfeited in 2012 after crown did not approve any criminal charges for one and criminal charges were stayed one week before trial in September 2010.

Attorney general and minister of justice Suzanne Anton said she was confident a review of the civil forfeiture program wasn’t needed.

“I am confident in the work being done by the Civil Forfeiture Office, which is precisely what it was set out to do when it began in 2006 so there is no need for a review,” she said in a statement.

“That said, as a regular practice with any program, we always watch to make sure that there aren’t unintended consequences of the process.”

“To ensure civil forfeiture actions are consistent with the interests of justice, the CFO must prove the property owner was complicit in, had knowledge of, or was wilfully blind to the unlawful activity,” she added.

“Every property owner is entitled to contest a forfeiture action in BC Supreme court, which ensures that the application for forfeiture is in the interest of justice.”

Money from the sale of assets seized through  civil forfeiture is used to compensate victims of crime and for crime prevention measures.

Vehicle speed indicators at Ecole Mountainview and Suwilaawks schools were purchased with money from the program.