The Civil Forfeiture Act allows the government to seize your property without convicting you, or even charging you with a crime.
The government can pursue your cars, your bank accounts, and even your home. Frequently, the government will obtain an order from a judge allowing them to freeze your bank accounts or other assets without providing you with notice.
Unlike a criminal case, in a civil forfeiture case the government is actually suing you in civil court to forfeit your property. In criminal law, the Crown prosecutor must prove the criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt. However, since civil forfeiture is not a criminal proceeding, the government’s burden of proof is much lower. The civil litigation standard is the balance of probabilities, which means the government only has to prove it is more likely than not that the property or assets they are seeking to forfeit were purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity or used in unlawful activity. Further, the government does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the property or assets were actually purchased with or used in unlawful activity.
Because of the lower civil standard, the government has been expanding the use of civil forfeiture proceedings. In many instances, the police are conducting investigations and making arrests that violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and then sending the case to the Civil Forfeiture Office, rather than to a Crown prosecutor, since the normal protections of the Charter and criminal law have less force in a civil forfeiture proceeding. A further advantage to the government is that unlike in criminal law, in civil litigation a defendant is obligated to disclose documents and evidence relevant to the government’s claim. A defendant in a civil forfeiture case may also be required to testify in an examination for discovery, while an accused in a criminal case has the right to remain silent.
Civil forfeiture cases are complex and require expertise in both civil litigation and criminal defence. The lawyers at Pacific Law Group have extensive experience in both civil litigation and criminal trials, providing our clients with legal representation of the highest quality.