Civil Forfeiture In Ontario
Ontario's civil forfeiture law - the Civil Remedies Act - allows the Attorney General to ask the civil court for an order to freeze, take possession of, and forfeit to the Crown, property that is determined to be a proceed or an instrument of unlawful activity.
A proceed is property, such as money, acquired as a result of unlawful activity. An instrument is property that is likely to be used to engage in unlawful activity in the future, such as a house used as a marijuana grow operation. Property includes all types of assets, such as real estate, cars and cash.
In Ontario, civil forfeiture legislation focuses solely on the connection between property and unlawful activity and is not dependant on any criminal charges or convictions. The standard of proof required for civil forfeiture is the same as it is in all civil actions - a balance of probabilities.
HOW CIVIL FORFEITURE LAW WORKS
The process for civil forfeiture begins when a designated institution, such as the police or a government ministry, submits 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. The court can grant an interim order to freeze property so it cannot be used, mortgaged or sold, pending the outcome of the forfeiture proceeding. If CRIA lawyers can prove that the property in question is a proceed or an instrument of unlawful activity, the court can issue orders forfeiting the property to the Crown.
Forfeited property that is not cash is liquidated and the funds, including any cash forfeited, are deposited into a special purpose account. Victims of the unlawful activity that led to the forfeiture may then submit a claim for compensation from those funds. Remaining funds may be disbursed for grants to support programs and initiatives that help victims of unlawful activity or prevent victimization.
CIVIL FORFEITURE SUCCESSES
Ontario's CRIA office is recognized nationally and internationally for its precedent-setting work. Since November 2003, a total of $12.9 million in property has been forfeited to the Crown. The province also has approximately $40.7 million in property that is frozen pending the completion of civil forfeiture proceedings.
Under the Civil Remedies Act, the Attorney General has:
- Forfeited two biker clubhouses in Oshawa and Thunder Bay
- Frozen and obtained a court order to demolish biker clubhouses in London, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Catharines, Toronto and Niagara
- Frozen two rooming houses in Orillia
- Frozen crack houses in Hamilton, Chatham & Ottawa
- Shut down and forfeited a notorious Hamilton crack house and transferred ownership to the City of Hamilton
- Forfeited three vehicles under the new civil vehicle forfeiture law
- Crushed two street racing vehicles
- Forfeited a bike shop and 2,200 stolen bicycles and bike parts
- Taken 23 guns, a stun gun, a cross-bow and an uzi sub-machine gun off the streets
- Forfeited 44 properties, 30 of which were marijuana grow operations (MGOs) and frozen 49 more (including 20 MGOs)
- Forfeited over $6.1 million in illicit cash
- Distributed $1.2 million to direct victims
- Awarded $3.4 million in grants to law enforcement agencies.