November 20, 2015 - 8:00 PM
VERNON - Mounties didn’t really get their man, but they did get his money.
Earlier this month, North Okanagan RCMP traffic police smelled marijuana coming from a vehicle travelling in front of them on Highway 6.
Police said the vehicle also had expired registration on the licence plate. They arrested the driver for possession of a controlled substance and searched his vehicle where they found an undisclosed amount of cash which they seized under the Civil Forfeiture Act.
But the man was never charged with any crimes — only a handful of traffic tickets.
If that strikes you as odd, it shouldn’t says Stan Tessmer, a Kelowna lawyer. It happens more than you think.
“(Police) have broad power to attempt to have forfeited to the provincial Crown anything that was used or attempted to be used or obtained from an unlawful act,” he says.
And they can do it without even pressing charges. Under the criminal code, the Crown has to prove an accused person has committed an offence, but in this case, if the man who had his cash seized wants it back he must pursue it in civil court.
Simply the amount of cash is enough to be considered ill-gotten gains. The province tried to seize a $300,000 home from a man because his tenant was caught with small amounts of marijuana and crack cocaine along with a scale. In another case, the office of civil forfeiture attempted to take a woman’s truck because her boyfriend was caught driving it while drunk.
“It happens quite a bit,” Tessmer says. “We are seeing it happen in America where a lot of police stations and programs are being funded by police seizing profits of crime with no criminal charges. Police forces across North America are using this to finance operations.”
In B.C., seized vehicles are used by police for crime prevention programs and civil forfeiture grants have paid for Kelowna’s domestic violence unit as well as victim services and various other agencies.
The process of seizing the material doesn’t even have to be reviewed by a judge in civil or criminal court — the director of civil forfeiture can seize it ‘administratively’.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Marshall Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015