Civil Forfeiture In Ontario
Ontario's civil forfeiture law -- the Civil Remedies Act -- allows the Attorney General to ask a 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.
Ontario is among seven provinces to sign the first civil forfeiture inter-provincial agreement that will help in confiscating profits generated from unlawful activity where the activity is located in one province and the property is located in another. This agreement allows provinces to share relevant information to pursue property used and profits generated from unlawful activities even though the activity may have happened in another province.
HOW CIVIL FORFEITURE LAW WORKS
The process for civil forfeiture usually 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 normally liquidated and the funds, including any cash forfeited, are deposited into a special purpose account. Direct victims of the unlawful activity that led to forfeiture can then submit a claim for compensation from those funds. Remaining funds may be disbursed for grants to support programs and initiatives that assist victims of unlawful activity or prevent unlawful activity that leads to victimization.
CIVIL FORFEITURE SUCCESSES
Ontario's CRIA office is recognized nationally and internationally for its precedent-setting work. Since November 2003, a total of $15.8 million in property has been forfeited to the Crown.
The province also has approximately $37.5 million in property that is frozen, pending completion of civil forfeiture proceedings.
The Attorney General has used the Civil Remedies Act to:
- forfeit two biker clubhouses in Oshawa and Thunder Bay
- freeze biker clubhouses in London, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Catharines, Toronto and Niagara
- demolish six of the above biker clubhouses (under an interim court order)
- freeze two rooming houses in Orillia
- freeze crack houses in Hamilton, Chatham and Ottawa
- shut down a notorious Hamilton crack house and transfer ownership to the City of Hamilton
- forfeit another crack house in Hamilton (owned by the same parties as the first)
- forfeit three vehicles under civil vehicle forfeiture law
- forfeit and crush two street racing vehicles
- forfeit a bike shop, stolen bicycles and bike components
- take 25 guns, a stun gun, a crossbow and an Uzi sub-machine gun off the streets
- forfeit 50 properties, 34 of which were marijuana grow operations (MGOs), and freeze 47 more, including 14 MGOs
- forfeit more than $8.2 million in illicit cash
- distribute approximately $1.2 million in compensation to victims of unlawful activity
- award $5.7 million in grants to law enforcement agencies from funds remaining after victims have been compensated.