There is a guy down the road who looks a bit sketchy to me. He always looks a bit scruffy, never makes eye contact, and he is often seen lounging about his back yard while the rest of us honest, god –fearing citizens are toiling away at the office. Eagle eyed Gladys who lives across the street from him, and sees absolutely everything that goes on the neighbourhood, and knows everybody’s business, recently whispered to me that she figured the guy must be some sort of criminal, and probably planning some nefarious activities
Well, Gladys’ opinion is good enough for me, so I’m gong to phone the Office of Civil Forfeiture, and have them come out and seize his house, just in order to shut down whatever criminal enterprise he might be planning for the future. Whatever he’s cooking up, I’m sure the neighbourhood will be better off without it.
Seem far fetched? well, in my line of work there is an old adage that hard cases make bad law, and there is exactly such a hard case meandering through the BC courts. It is the case of the Director of Civil Forfeiture versus the Hell’s Angels. The case has been ongoing since 2007, with the government attempting to seize the biker club’s clubhouses in Nanaimo, Vancouver and Kelowna. They started off by alleging that since a number of the club’s members have serious criminal records, the clubhouses must have been used to commit crimes, (or have been purchased with the proceeds of crime) and therefore they should be forfeited under the civil forfeiture legislation. Eight years on the government hasn’t been able to connect sufficient dots to make that case, and so now they are attempting a different tack.
The Director has applied for and had been granted leave by the Supreme Court of BC to amend his pleadings to allege that the clubhouses should be forfeited, not because they might have, In the past been used to perpetrate crime, but because they MIGHT, in the future be used for a criminal purpose.
Lets just think about that for a minute, how on earth can one prove to any acceptable standard of certainty, that someone might break a law at some point in the future, or use a particular venue to do it?
I’m no fan of the Hell’s Angels, to be sure, but have to confess that the government’s position on this case makes me just a tad nervous. How do I know that when the SWAT team from the Office of Civil Forfeiture arrives on my block that they will carry on to bust my scruffy neighbour, and not stop at my driveway?