Civil forfeiture laws have been rationalized as a way of taking the profit out of crime, deterring illegal activity, and compensating the victims of criminal acts. These laws exist in eight Canadian provinces, allowing police agencies to confiscate property which is deemed, on the balance of probabilities, to be either proceeds or instruments of “unlawful activity.”
In practice, civil forfeiture amounts to a legislative shortcut past the criminal process. It facilitates the seizure of suspicious assets, but represents an end run around the presumption of innocence. Because Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not explicitly protect the right to property, civil forfeiture officials have claimed that property is not subject to the same standard of proof and due process as other rights such as life and liberty.
To put a person in jail for a day, or even force them to pay a traffic ticket, the government must prove that individual guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To take that same individual’s home under civil forfeiture laws, the province need only satisfy the court that the defendant probably did something wrong.
CivilForfeiture.ca exists to provide basic information about the civil forfeiture process, as well as thought-provoking news and commentary for those studying the legal and moral implications of civil forfeiture laws.