Director of Civil Forfeiture v. Trimble, 2012 BCSC – “Suspicions are not Evidence”

The Defendant, Wesley Trimble, a Canadian citizen who for many years resided had resided on a sailboat, was subject to a civil forfeiture action when he arrived in Canadian waters without making a customs declaration. After approximately 10 days in Canada, his vessel was the subject of a search in which approximately $47,000 in Canadian currency was located. Several years earlier, Mr. Trimble had been accused of drug trafficking in Costa Rica, but had been acquitted.

The Director of Civil Forfeiture alleged the Mr. Trimble’s vessel was, on the balance of probabilities, either proceeds of past crime or an instrument of ongoing crime. On this basis, the Director obtained an ex parte Interim Preservation Order and seized the vessel, but after three weeks was required to justify the seizure, at which time Mr. Trimble’s counsel was entitled to make submissions.

Based on the evidence available, Mr. Justice Macaulay of the BC Supreme Court found that there was no actual evidence of unlawful activity on Mr. Trimble’s part, and that the Director’s entire case was based on suspicion and innuendo:

“[17] The purchase of a vessel for cash in a foreign jurisdiction and returning to Canada without making a customs declaration may give rise to suspicion. The presence of a large amount of cash and trace narcotics on board the vessel may give rise to further suspicion that the vehicle was used or is intended to be used in the illegal drug trade.

[18] However, suspicions are not evidence. It is possible that the Director’s suspicions might eventually prove well-founded, but the current evidence is indirect and does not support the inferences necessary to raise a serious issue that the vehicle is either proceeds of unlawful activity or that it has been used in the past or is likely to be used in the future, for unlawful activity. In other words, on the current evidence, the Director has no reasonable prospect of success in making out either claim.”

This is an encouraging example of the court’s ability to nullify frivolous civil forfeiture actions at the outset, simply by declaring that there is no serious issue to be tried, as opposed to putting both parties through the time and expense of an unnecessary trial.

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

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