British Columbia (Civil Forfeiture) v. Vo, 2012 BCSC 1476

The Director of Civil Forfeiture sought forfeiture of a property belonging to Hong Thu Thi Vo, on the basis that it was an “instrument of unlawful activity,” and/or that the funds used for purchase of the property were “proceeds of unlawful activity.” Ms. Vo filed a Statement of Defence, as did Luong Hien Bui, an individual who had advanced funds to Ms. Vo so as to finance the purchase of the property.

After Ms. Vo and Mr. Bui were examined for discovery, the Director applied to amend his Notice of Civil Claim, so as to expand the scope of the action to include another property, and to include further allegations about Ms. Vo’s financial transactions with Mr. Bui as well as Mr. Le, another individual who apparently advanced money to Ms. Vo.

The Defendant opposed the proposed amendments, arguing that they disclosed no legitimate cause of action against her. Mr. Justice Williams of the BC Supreme Court concluded that the Director need not implicate Ms. Vo in any specific criminal activity in order for the action to proceed:

“[76] The structure of the Act can essentially create a requirement for the defendant to prove the legality of her property. Since the Director need not prove any specific criminal activity to meet the standard of unlawful activity, unless the defendant has some evidence as to the legitimate origins of the property, she is in danger of having it forfeited. This approach has been endorsed by the courts in a number of cases, and so it cannot be said that advancing a case this way discloses no reasonable cause of action.

[77] It might be said that in order for Ms. Vo to meet the case against her, she needs more particulars of the alleged unlawful activity, but since the Director does not need to be aware of the particulars of the unlawful activity, it seems reasonable that he does not need to provide them.”

Furthermore, the court found that the Director was entitled to include statements about Mr. Le in his Notice of Civil Claim without adding Mr. Le as a party.

This decision goes to show the unique nature of the Civil Forfeiture Act as an open-ended tool for civil prosecution, completely devoid of the normal procedural requirements for particulars that would be present in a criminal trial.

Decided by the BC Supreme Court on October 4, 2012.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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