Alberta (Justice) v. Wong, 2012 ABQB 498

In Alberta v. Wong, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench built upon its analysis in Petros and Squire as to the application of the Charter to civil forfeiture proceedings.

One of the Defendants, Yen Chen Huang, argued that the court should set aside a Restraint Order pertaining to a large sum of seized cash because the police did not have reasonable grounds to search the premises in question. The Ministry of Justice acknowledged that the Charter applied to civil forfeiture proceedings, but asserted that there should be a distinction made between civil and criminal proceedings in regard to the correct standard for exclusion of evidence.

The court rejected the Ministry of Justice’s argument in this regard, finding that when the Supreme Court of Canada adjusted the standard for exclusion of evidence in R. v. Grant, they placed an increased emphasis on the question of whether or not the administration of justice was brought into disrepute. This question, according to Justice Jones of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, is equally relevant to criminal and civil proceedings:

[72] Restated, the fundamental question of whether admission of evidence could cause the administration of justice to be brought into disrepute need not be confined to circumstances in which an individual’s liberty is at stake.

[73] I accept Justice Sullivan’s analysis and conclude that application of (i) Charter considerations relating to the legality of evidence seizure and (ii) the remedial provisions of section 24(2), apply to civil matters with the same force as in criminal matters.

In the case at bar, however, the court found that the Defendants’ Charter rights had not been infringed and that they were therefore ineligible for exclusion of evidence under Section 24(2) of the Charter:

[120] In conclusion, I find that the ITO was not misleading, intentionally or otherwise. Consequently, Shiplett had reasonable and probable grounds for issuing the Original Warrant. Even the Amended ITO, excised of all allegedly Deficient Information as proposed by the Ms. Huang, would have provided Shiplett with a wealth of uncontroverted evidence detailing the involvement of Wong and Yun in the illegal drug trade and strongly suggesting the existence of evidence to be found in the Residence on July 2, 2009 that would implicate Yun in the possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

This decision demonstrates that the exclusion of evidence in any context is an uphill battle since the Supreme Court’s decision in Grant. However, it also stands for the proposition that exclusion of evidence should not be more difficult in the civil forfeiture context just because the subject of the action is property rather than the commission of a criminal offence. In this way, Alberta v. Wong will be a useful precedent for Defendants who are successful in having evidence excluded from a criminal trial, and are simultaneously facing a civil forfeiture action.

Decided by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench on July 31, 2012.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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