It was a nice Saturday afternoon, that is, before I decided to read Maclean's Magazine. My husband has a subscription. I think I'm going to ask him to cancel it as it WAS a nice Saturday afternoon. There's an article in there that just got to me. Yes, I know. That's been happening a lot lately. I think I should turn the Internet off too.
~Disclaimer: Island of Bob Edition~
I believe in personal responsibility, rights and freedoms. I defend the law abiding and lawfulness of people AND government. If someone is charged AND convicted, in general that's their problem. It's that whole “do the crime, do the time” thing. It's also that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing.
If I believe a law requires changing, I learn how to change it and try. I've also learned that takes A LONG FREAKIN' TIME and a little patience.
Now, I'm not a lawyer and what I say is my opinion and based on my own interpretations (unless I actually copy and paste it from somebody else.) Based on what I, myself have interpreted so far, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club are probably right. Now here’s why I think this.
~End Disclaimer: Island of Bob Edition
Thank you, Boss of Bob~
The Hells Angels have become Constitutional defenders. I mean seriously, how weird is that? In B.C. they've had several pieces of property seized under the Civil Forfeiture Act. I've just learned of this act and it's been on the books since 2005. This disturbs me.
What I know of the Hells Angels comes from media so I'm not going talk too much about the club specifically, but rather about their situation. Now, the club hasn’t been charged with anything and the police have tried. Members of the club have been charged AND convicted, but not the club. What’s happened to the Hells Angels is a symptom of our ever crumbling rights. Let’s be clear here. Individual members being convicted of crimes is not proof the club is itself criminal. That would mean if your co-worker is charged and convicted of theft, your entire company is obviously unlawful. You are a criminal by simple association. It wouldn’t matter where the theft happened.
Judge Mackenzie - the acquittal judge for one of men charged - said the man before her (a known member of the Hells Angels) is not guilty for possession of cocaine. Since he has been found not guilty of a crime, that lack of evidence of a crime cannot be used to declare the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club a criminal organization. I’m paraphrasing here. All I can say is law is weird and I'm mostly okay with that. As far as I'm concerned, he’s innocent until proven guilty; anything else is speculation or conjecture.
Let's just skip the B.C. Supreme Court's inability to prove the Hells Angels are a criminal organization and move right to their squished rights.
If the Civil Forfeiture Office truly believes that unlawful activities have taken place on these properties or by the owners of the properties, why not pursue charges under the criminal code of Canada? Oh right, because they tried this once and failed. To try again (and with a different set of charges) will take too much time and effort. It's much easier to punish someone without that pesky due process stuff in the way.
As seen on the B.C. Ministry of Justice website, B.C. is one of two provinces that pioneered civil forfeiture to deter unlawful activity by taking away the instruments and proceeds of crime. From what I understand, it was meant for criminal organizations and the like, but it’s being used against jaywalkers. (I’ll try to turn the sarcasm down but it’s really hard sometimes.)
Seven provinces have since instituted it which makes me so very unhappy. This act allows the province to seize any asset it BELIEVES to be linked with unlawful activity. It doesn't seem to matter how small. “We like your view. YOU LOSE YOUR HOUSE!”
Okay, so I made that last part up... I hope.
The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club aren't the only targets of the Civil Forfeiture Act. They’re just the latest in a long line and they happen to have deep pockets. From what I've found, most others settle because to fight this in court costs a minimum of $50,000. Most lose anyway since they’re fighting the very system that took their stuff in the first place. It's sad to have to roll over because the government uses tax dollars to it's advantage to screw over, well, taxpayers.
So it’s time to head back to the B.C. Ministry of Justice website for more information. I should have read the whole page the first time, not just skimmed it. My (was healthy an hour ago) heart can only take so much.
“These proceedings are not commenced in court, they are an administrative process.
Whether proceedings are initiated in court or administratively, they are not reliant on criminal charges or convictions arising from the alleged unlawful activity.”
I BEG YOUR FU~BEEEEEEEP~
I apologize for my rather abrupt outburst. I've now calmed down a tad. I have to wonder, when the creators of this act first said those words, did it sound stupid when it bounced off the walls and back to their ears, too? Maybe it's just me then. So, having not even left the first page on civil forfeiture, I see that due process has been chucked out the window, stomped on, run over, and thrown in the garbage. Then they burned it, put it in the cat litter box and tossed it in the landfill. Or is that just my impression? Perhaps I need to calm down a little more.
First order of business: the idea of civil versus criminal law are being intermingled, or at least that’s what I’m seeing. This is seeming more like the American judicial system. We’re not America, we’re Canada. Let’s stay distinct, please. “We can’t get him in criminal court so let’s sue the pants off him!” Only, it’s the Crown doing the suing. I decided to head over to the Department of Justice website and get some clarity on this issue. There it says that civil or private law is between individuals or companies, you know, private citizens. Criminal or public law involves prosecution by the Crown as these cases involve crimes against society as a whole. So then why is the Crown suing individuals? That’s all mixed up.
With something like civil forfeiture, the Crown lost the war so they decide to brawl. The burden of proof is on the individual to say “I’m innocent of any charge of the criminal code beyond a reasonable doubt” but having to go through civil court to do it. The fun part is the Crown is both the judge and the prosecutor.
Your honour, presenting The Crown versus Miss Swan. We tried to charge and convict Miss Swan with theft and possession and distribution of cocaine but she was found not guilty of all charges. Now The Crown is suing her for her house as it was purchased through unlawful means.
Justice Civil Crown:
By what unlawful means was it acquired?
Theft, possession and distribution of cocaine.
Justice Civil Crown:
Oh, okay. The Civil Forfeiture Office may have her house then.
May I speak! It is my house and life after all!
Justice Civil Crown:
* gavel *
I’m really hoping I’m being facetious but it does have this feel to it. So, British Columbia just wiped their nose with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This seems to be happening more and more everyday, so why am I surprised by this one?
It seems that some have tried to get around the Charter by saying “Section 11 doesn't apply because we haven't charged him with anything. Let’s do this.” That section does start with “Any person charged with an offense...” Section 8, however states “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.” The Supreme Court of Canada said civil forfeiture, to a point is okay and is putting a stop to some of it. I think it needs to stop all of it.
So what part of the Charter trumps what? The “evil Them” don't care. This act is to prevent unlawful activities don'tcha know. SO CHARGE THE PERSON UNDER THE CRIMINAL CODE OF CANADA! THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR! Forgive me, I’m having a hard time keeping my temper in check today. So, let's play this out to it's (il)logical conclusion. Don't charge anyone as that causes too much paperwork. Everyone is then guilty of something, and why not? I'm sure we can find something they've done if we look hard enough. Then we wouldn't be bogged down with pesky things like a judicial system and the government would have so much more money because they could SEIZE ALL THE THINGS!
So, if person X has not been charged AND convicted, how does a provincial court, no, not even a provincial court... This is administrative. How does the Civil Forfeiture Office (CFO) justify forfeiture of personal property? This is random. I realize they don't think so or don’t care to think so, but it is.
Back to the Hells Angels. The province went after the Nanaimo club house in 2007 for forfeiture. A police investigation was done, as was a property search and these turned up nothing. There was no criminal prosecution. Now three properties have been targeted for “forfeiture” because “It’s alleged they have been used as instruments in the commission of crimes including drug production, assault and murder.” Nothing has been proven in any level of court. To me, it seems like the province is just irked that they didn't win the first time. They couldn't say the Hells Angels are a criminal organization so they're taking their toys away.
There are so many example of this law being (mis)used. I could start listing them but it would go on and on and on. If you go the B.C. Ministry of Justice website, in the Civil Forfeitures section, you can find properties subject to administrative forfeitures. Then go to various other sites and check out the actual circumstances of the forfeiture. Look up more than one though, make sure the stories don’t conflict. I’ve had a couple conflict. Even those get a little wonky.
The unlawful activity can be itty bitty, or horrendously huge! The CFO isn’t picky as long as they can take something. You don’t even need to go through that annoying process of, well, process. Why actually get charged and convicted with a crime? You and I both know “they” saw something happen on your property! You probably have drugs in your house or car, too! It’s very lazy and the province likes it that way.
What’s said on the Department of Justice website seems contrary to the CFO. On the very first page, it talks about legal rights and responsibilities. It talks about how much of our laws are based on common sense. Civil forfeiture is more like a stab in the back and a toss under the bus. I find it difficult to trust a system that permits this. When will they come for my stuff just because I’ve said something they disagree with? I feel that time is coming. Thank God I no longer live in British Columbia.
Also, on the Department of Justice website, in the section called “The Role of the Public,” it says “Each of us has a part in ensuring that the law works properly and justice is done.” Practice what you preach. Seizing property under the auspices of preventing unlawful activity but not following due process is not preventative - it's vindictive. People scream police state far to frequently and easily but this is one of the few times I agree with them.
I did find a forum where people are saying “sounds perfectly reasonable to me,” or “sounds good to me,” in regards to civil forfeiture. They know and don’t care that the people suffering through forfeiture are not always charged. The sentiment of “If you get caught, you pay. Seems fine to me” only works so long as those saying these things aren’t the ones affected by laws such as these. As seen so often, it will be these people crying in the streets about how unjust it is when they’re the ones targeted. We’ll be hearing “I’m innocent! Don’t they know it’s innocent until proven guilty” and all that other stuff. It makes me wonder, are these the same people that get really angry at me when I drive the speed limit on a deserted highway at 2 am, then pass me like I’m road paint?
Laws such as civil forfeiture, the firearms act and anything that allows warrantless searches need to change. The government needs to stop these laws before they achieve royal assent. They’re put into place to stop crime but what they’re really doing is punishing those of us who, in general, were never criminals to begin with. I say in general because there is much speculation about the Hells Angels. This is one of the few times I have to let my personal feelings go, ignore reputations and remember, innocent until proven guilty.
I'm a Canadian classical liberal (individual freedoms are important) who photographs stuff. I also happen to have few opinions about a few things. Read my stuff, you'll see what else there is to me.