Civil Forfeiture in Ontario
Ontario's civil forfeiture law -- the Civil Remedies Act, 2001 -- 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, that is acquired as a result of unlawful activity. An instrument is property that is likely to be used to engage in unlawful activity, 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. Other organizations, such as the RCMP and the Ontario Securities Commission, that have entered into agreements with the Attorney General, may submit cases directly to CRIA.
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. Victims of the unlawful activity that led to a specific forfeiture may submit a claim for compensation from those specific funds. The funds in the special purpose account are also used by the Attorney General to recover the Crown's costs and to disburse grants to designated institutions 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 has been recognized nationally and internationally for its precedent-setting work. Since November 2003, a total of $37.6 million in property has been forfeited to the Crown. The province also has approximately $24.5 million in property that is frozen, pending completion of civil forfeiture proceedings.
Under the Civil Remedies Act, the Attorney General has:
- forfeited funds from parties who were in contravention of the Securities Act (our first case from the Ontario Securities Commission)
- forfeited biker clubhouses in Oshawa and Thunder Bay
- frozen biker clubhouses in London (two), Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Catharines, Toronto and Niagara
- demolished six of the above biker clubhouses (under an interim court order)
- frozen two rooming houses in Orillia, used as drug houses
- frozen crack houses in Hamilton, Chatham and Ottawa
- forfeited crack houses in Hamilton
- forfeited 16 vehicles under civil vehicle forfeiture legislation
- forfeited and crushed two street racing vehicles
- forfeited a bike shop, stolen bicycles and bike components
- taken 25 guns, a stun gun, a cross-bow and an Uzi sub-machine gun off the streets
- forfeited 60 properties (40 of which were marijuana grow operations) and frozen 70 more (includes 11 marijuana grow operations)
- forfeited over $10.2 million in illicit cash