Reasonable Doubt: The government is broke and it’s coming after your stuff

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      Lately the newspapers in Vancouver have read something like this: “Rich kids engage in foolish and dangerous street racing in luxury cars. No criminal charges could be approved. Government seizes luxury cars as retribution for foolish and dangerous street racing. Cars will be subject to forfeiture proceedings. Justice prevails!”

      Nobody cares about entitled rich kids and their Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and Porsches! So seize their cars! Make them learn a lesson!

      Yeah! I agree! I don’t sympathize with those rich kids. One of their cars could pay for my legal education. Twice!

      It appears the government has its poster child for the Pro Civil Forfeiture campaign.

      This story could not have come at a better time for the cash-strapped government.

      Uh-oh. This is bad. Why?

      Because the term “unlawful activity” is incredibly broad; it is not restricted only to behaviour we consider criminal. The wide net that is cast by “unlawful activity” puts almost everyone that owns anything at risk in our highly regulated society.

      Unlawful activity is defined as any act that is an offence under any act of Canada or B.C. This includes the Motor Vehicle Act.

      Think about it this way. You work hard. Perhaps you have a family. Every morning you’re up at 6 a.m. to start the day and you’re at work by 8 a.m. You work until 5 or 6 p.m., rush home to get dinner on the go or other such chores and nonsense.

      You’re going from A to B. You’re stressed, you’re rushed, and you’re late. So you go a little faster. No big deal. Just 20 kilometres per hour over the speed limit. Oh wait, you’re really late. Little Tony is waiting for you at the field after soccer practice and it’s raining. So you go a little faster.

      Then out of nowhere, sirens! Lights! You’re pulled over. It turns out, you were going 105 km/h in a 60 km/h zone. Bad judgement, but not unusual for that stretch of road where everyone speeds. (That’s why the speed trap was set up there). Doesn’t matter—you were going 40 m/h over the speed limit. The police impound your car and issue you a ticket.

      Unfortunately, you drive something nicer than my ’97 Toyota Corolla and the government is a little hungry for a bit of extra cash. Your file is referred to the Civil Forfeiture Office. Your car happens to be an instrument of unlawful activity. Consider it seized and forfeited.

      Or how about another common scenario these days. You’re out at dinner with friends. You have one glass of wine because you remember that Rich Coleman said you could. Driving home three hours later you’re pulled over and given a roadside breath demand.

      You blow. You fail. You’re shocked. You blow again. You fail again. (By the way, these roadside breath test machines are often operated incorrectly or are faulty. This also doesn’t matter.) Your car is immediately impounded; you’re served with a driving prohibition on the spot. Your car also happens to be an instrument of unlawful activity and is at risk of forfeiture.

      Or even better, you’re a property owner. Nothing grand, but it’s an investment property. You take in renters to help with the mortgage. Next thing you know the house is raided and a marijuana grow operation is found. The government does not have enough to convict your renters or you. Fortunately for the government, they don’t need to have a conviction to forfeit your property. It so happens that a house and land is worth something in the Vancouver area, so they refer the file to the Civil Forfeiture Office.

      By following the money trail, the government can show that you paid down your mortgage on the house using proceeds from a grow operation. Turns out the equity you built up in your house while renting is considered proceeds of unlawful activity and at risk of forfeiture to the government. There goes your nest egg.

      So yes, the fancy cars of rich kids make a great face for this particular government strategy. But the true face of this issue is you.

      There are more average people like you and me having their things taken by the government than there are entitled rich kids having their fancy cars seized. Then it stops being easy to point the finger and say, “You deserve it, you’re a criminal.”

      Reasonable Doubt appears on on Fridays. The column’s writers, Laurel Dietz and Nancy Seto, are criminal defence lawyers at Cobb St. Pierre Lewis. You can send your questions for the column to them at

      A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.



      Sheep People

      Sep 30, 2011 at 10:40am

      You are 100% correct.

      There will be arbitrary Civil Forfeiture(s).

      The burden of proof is unbelievably low for Forfeiture but the Sheep amongst us want to be "Tough on Crime".

      Under the current Forfeiture rules do the Police organizations get a share? If they do thats bad since it raises a conflict of interest.

      Rule of Law should be about right and wrong Criminal & non-Criminal not how much Money the Government can get.

      Unreaasonable Doubt

      Sep 30, 2011 at 11:33am

      All excellent hypothetical scenarios. Any evidence that 1) This has occurred in anything other than hypothetical scenario columns? 2) That the courts have not provided redress?


      Oct 1, 2011 at 7:53pm

      uh...I don't think anybody was racing their Lamborghinis to get little Tony at soccer practice. I appreciate your point of view, but without being too polite about it, these were young assholes with too much money and too few brains demonstrating their utter contempt for Canadian law and lives - especially the lives of those people who may very well have been on their way to pick up little Tony, and little Tony himself for that matter. Take away their cars until they grow up - or better yet, until their stupid parents grow up. After all, if we can be towed for owing a few parking tickets, and we can, the 'hypothetical' machinery is already in place to take our stuff - this just happened to be a bigger, better and flashier example of the same machinery, and there's plenty of nine to fivers whose first thought was 'serves the little fuckers right'. They won't learn anything, because we already know they're too stupid, but at least they'll be off the road for a while.


      Oct 2, 2011 at 2:25pm

      i hope these guy's do an article about the ridiculous corporatist law being pushed through right now dealing with copyright. suddenly thousands of file sharing lawsuits and other madness the day after it clears the newly watered down senate

      suck it

      Oct 2, 2011 at 5:43pm

      so i guess if i have the police attend to my house for any reason they could seize my house too.... I dont think so and I dont see this BS law being around for very long.

      Taxpayers R Us

      Oct 2, 2011 at 8:48pm

      I agree with you on both points. In this case only though, I think the vehicles should be seized for endangering Canadian lives.

      If you are bored and in law

      Oct 5, 2011 at 7:32pm

      Just an equation somebody may want to explore

      "Public Trust" implements program
      International health organization cites potential hazard
      "Public Trust" doggedly carries on - no changes
      Breach of Trust, Misplaced Loyalty

      Might make an interesting article too.


      Oct 20, 2011 at 11:14am

      Ya the government is after your money! My father lost a 1.5 million dollar property because of this forfeiture act. He was arrested for growing pot at his place and they seized his property. He worked hard for 35 years and sacrificed his life over that place. Now in his 70's he has nothing left and is to sick to work. He rents a place that has no heating system and should be condemned . Fit for a homeless man, but that's all he can afford.

      Where is the balance in justice?


      Oct 29, 2011 at 7:29pm

      I agree with Unreasonable Doubt. Although some will deny it, the reason the Civil Forfeiture Act came into being was because of the woeful inadequacies of the federal Proceeds of Crime legislation. In the typical fashion of any federal legislation that came into being under the Liberals it is a watered down toothless bulldog that sets an impossibly high burden on the Crown and is grossly stacked in favor of the accused.

      When the first Proceeds legislation was enacted in the late 80s I was sent to a seminar put on by the RCMP to explain it and guide us through the process. When it got to the part that provides for an ex-parte conference (meaning a meeting of the Judge, the Accused, and his counsel in the absence of the Crown) to determine how much of the contested money was to be set aside to pay the defence lawyer, I went for lunch and never went back.

      Enacting this law shows the same 'ingenuity' that defence lawyers pat each other on the back for.

      Some of my best friends are defence lawyers and I'm all in favor of fair process and a strong defence bar but until I see evidence that this law is being abused I support it. If the federal version was fixed there would be no need for it.