Civil Vehicle Forfeiture
Civil Remedies Act
Amendments to the Civil Remedies Act, included in the Safer Roads for a Safer Ontario Act, 2007, which came into effect on February 20, 2008, set a new standard for road safety by focusing on vehicles used by repeat drinking and driving offenders.
This law allows civil courts, at the request of the Attorney General, to impound and forfeit a vehicle, if the court finds:
- That the vehicle was involved in, or is likely to be involved in, a drinking and driving offence, AND
- The vehicle is owned or driven by a person whose driver's licence has been suspended for a drinking and driving offence two or more times in the preceding 10 years.
The civil court would also have the power to release a vehicle from "impound" before it is forfeited if the registered owner of the vehicle agrees to certain court-imposed terms and conditions including:
- Fitting the vehicle with an ignition interlock device -- an alcohol breath-screening device that prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects a blood alcohol concentration over a pre-set limit
- Having the registered owner agree that the person whose actions resulted in the forfeiture application would not drive the vehicle.
The new law also protects the interests of responsible vehicle owners who do, or have done, all they can to ensure that their vehicle is not being driven, or will not be driven in the future, by the person who continues to or is likely to continue to engage in a drinking and driving offence.
How Civil Vehicle Forfeiture Works
The new law applies to automobiles, motorcycles, motor assisted bicycles and snowmobiles.
The process for civil forfeiture of vehicles involved in repeat drinking and driving offences begins when police or Crown prosecutors submit a case to the reviewing authority, an independent Crown counsel in the Ministry of the Attorney General. That counsel decides whether the statutory criteria in the Civil Remedies Act have been met. Once that is confirmed, the case information is forwarded to the ministry's Civil Remedies for Illicit Activities Office (CRIA), which is responsible for enforcing the Act.
CRIA lawyers bring proceedings to court on behalf of the Attorney General. If they can prove that the vehicle was driven, or is likely to be driven, by someone who has committed or is likely to commit a drinking and driving offence, the court can issue orders forfeiting the vehicle to the Crown.
Generally, forfeited vehicles go to public auction and the proceeds deposited into a special purpose account. Direct victims of the unlawful activity associated with the forfeiture can submit a claim for compensation against the funds. Remaining funds may be disbursed for grants to support programs and initiatives that assist victims of unlawful activity or prevent victimization.
Civil Forfeiture Successes
Ontario's Civil Remedies for Illicit Activities office is recognized nationally and internationally for its precedent-setting work. Since November 2003, a total of $6 million in property has been forfeited to the Crown. The province also has approximately $10 million in property that is frozen pending the completion of civil forfeiture proceedings.
Under the Civil Remedies Act, the Attorney General has:
- Forfeited three vehicles under the new civil vehicle forfeiture law
- Shut down a notorious Hamilton crack house and transferred ownership to the City of Hamilton
- Frozen crack houses in Hamilton and Chatham
- Forfeited an outlaw biker clubhouse in Thunder Bay
- Frozen an outlaw biker clubhouse in Oshawa
- Crushed two street racing cars
- Taken 10 guns off the streets (including a stun gun)
- Forfeited 23 properties used for marijuana grow operations and frozen 46 more
- Forfeited over $1 million in illicit cash
- Distributed approximately $1 million in compensation to victims of unlawful activity
- Awarded more than $900,000 in grants to law enforcement agencies.