Civil forfeiture is when the government confiscates assets that are related to alleged unlawful activity. This could be property that has been purchased with the proceeds of crime, or instruments that have been used to facilitate crime.
If you have received notice that your assets are going to be seized by the Civil Forfeiture Office, you need to take immediate action. There are strict time limits at play, and if you do not issue a Notice of Dispute (PDF) fast enough, your property will be forfeited.
Civil forfeiture BC
According to the government of British Columbia, civil forfeiture was created ‘to ensure that people cannot profit from unlawful activity or use property in a way that may harm other persons.’
In other words, the government wanted to be able to legally seize assets that were in any way related to alleged unlawful activity, including items purchased with money made from crime, and items used to assist crime. This led to the Civil Forfeiture Act of BC being introduced in 2006. The Globe and Mail reported that in its first 10 years, British Columbia’s Civil Forfeiture Office seized nearly $66 million in property.
Civil forfeiture and crime
Although not true of every case, civil forfeiture is typically related to drug offences.
However, here is the interesting thing about civil forfeiture – you do not actually have to have been charged or convicted of a criminal offence for your assets to be forfeited. It is a civil lawsuit, not a criminal one.
In practical terms, this means that the Director of Civil Forfeiture simply has to prove that the property in question is either proceeds of, or an instrument of, unlawful activity. It does not particularly matter whether or not you are also facing criminal charges. Your property can be confiscated either way.
What assets can be forfeited?
Any assets relating to unlawful activity can be seized under civil forfeiture BC. So, someone who is accused of drug dealing may have their home and vehicle forfeited because they were bought using the proceeds of crime. They may also have any equipment used to grow or make drugs confiscated, such as hydroponic systems.
But importantly, the Civil Forfeiture Office is not allowed to take property that was obtained legitimately. It must also establish a link between the property and criminal activity. It is not enough to simply assume that because someone is convicted of dealing drugs, their house was purchased through ill-gotten means.
What happens during civil forfeiture BC?
If the Civil Forfeiture Office wishes to confiscate your property, it will issue a ‘Notice of Intent’. You will either receive a letter, or a notice will be published in a newspaper or the BC Gazette.
If you do nothing, or you do not act quickly enough, the property is forfeited to the government. But if you dispute the forfeiture, the case will either be dropped, or will be heard in front of a judge at the BC Supreme Court.
If you do wish to take action, you need to respond to the Notice of Intent by issuing a ‘Notice of Dispute’. You must do this within 60 days of the Notice of Intent being delivered or published. In certain circumstances you may have up to 67 days. If you miss the deadline, there is nothing you can do, so it is extremely important to act quickly.
The Director of Civil Forfeiture then has 30 days to either withdraw their case, or start a lawsuit against you. If it chooses to begin legal proceedings, your case will be decided by a judge in the BC Supreme Court. The judge must consider the evidence presented by both sides and decide whether the assets are indeed related to unlawful activity, and whether it is in the interests of justice to order a forfeiture.
Vancouver criminal lawyer
If your assets are being threatened by civil forfeiture, we recommend that you ask a Vancouver criminal lawyer to act on your behalf. The consequences of civil forfeiture can be devastating, potentially causing both you and your loved ones to suffer.
A lawyer can issue a Notice of Dispute for you, ensuring that you do not miss the strict deadlines in place and reducing the risk of any errors. This is important, as there are certain requirements surrounding Notices of Dispute – for example, they must be in writing and made under oath. Any mistakes could make your notice invalid.
A lawyer can then gather evidence that disproves the link between your property and unlawful activity. This will maximize your chances of success in court, saving you considerable time and distress.