Forfeiture to better target drug crime, hidden assets

Mike Farnworth

CASH that is stored with illegal drugs or stolen goods, and assets that criminals try to hide in another person’s name or outside of B.C., will be more susceptible to civil forfeiture as government expands the reach of this tool to combat unlawful activity.

“Police agencies are working tirelessly to take gang members and dealers of deadly fentanyl off B.C.’s streets,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “Beefing up civil forfeiture to better undermine gang and organized crime is timely and necessary to supplement those frontline, life-saving efforts.”

Changes to the Civil Forfeiture Act, if passed, will:

* Shift to the defendant the onus to prove that an asset is not an instrument or proceed of unlawful activity, in cases where the Civil Forfeiture Office (CFO) provides the court with sufficient evidence clearly linking the asset to organized crime, gang activity or drug trafficking. For example, if the CFO provides evidence that police seized $100,000 from a safe that also contained a kilogram of fentanyl, the cash will be presumed to be proceeds of crime, with the onus on the defendant to prove the money came from legitimate sources. Similar presumptions will apply in cases involving drug traffickers’ vehicles and property of members of organized crime groups.

* Address the impact of instantaneous wealth transfer beyond B.C.’s borders. With modern technology, international organized crime groups and domestic gangs that amass wealth from criminal activities can attempt to liquidate assets or transfer wealth out of reach of provincial authorities. The amendments will make it easier for the CFO to identify, trace and obtain forfeiture of these crime proceeds before they disappear – for example, by empowering the office to obtain more, basic information from banks and others about those who may possess proceeds of unlawful activity.

* Allow the CFO to apply to the B.C. Supreme Court for limited preservation orders before the office commences formal proceedings. This pre-emptive ability is another new tool that will help to prevent criminals from transferring suspected proceeds of crime out of the CFO’s reach before it files an application in court.

* Make the civil forfeiture process more efficient and cost-effective – in turn maximizing the forfeited funds available to invest in community safety programs and initiatives throughout B.C.

“This is the most significant revision of this legislation in the 13-year history of the civil forfeiture program, yet all the changes further its original goal: to undermine the profit motive driving some of the most violent criminal activity in our province,” Farnworth said. “We believe these changes will reaffirm B.C.’s leadership in Canada in tracing and forfeiting proceeds of crime.”


Quick Facts:

* The vast majority of the CFO’s cases are linked to drug, gang and organized crime. B.C. reinvests forfeiture proceeds in community safety and crime prevention programs.

* Over the life of B.C.’s civil forfeiture program, which began in spring 2006, forfeitures have totalled over $87 million, out of which grants in support of crime prevention and remediation initiatives total $37.5 million and victim compensation totals $1.63 million.

* Funds have been reinvested in community crime prevention projects throughout the province to keep youth out of gangs, combat domestic violence and human trafficking, support restorative justice and countless other locally driven efforts to make British Columbians safer in their communities.