Civil Forfeiture and the Standard of Proof

Jul 12 07:36 2012 Jeremy Maddock Print This Article

Unlike criminal proceedings, where an accused person must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and only punished once their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, civil forfeiture proceedings operate on the balance of probabilities, meaning that the state must merely demonstrate that an individual has probably done something illegal in order to obtain forfeiture of their property.

 

Because Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not explicitly protect property rights,Guest Posting and the Supreme Court of Canada found Ontario’s civil forfeiture statute to be a valid exercise of provincial power in Chatterjee v. Ontario, seven Canadian provinces are now using quasi-criminal legislation to confiscate individuals’ property on the balance of probabilities, without extending any presumption of innocence.

 

This has allowed for de facto civil prosecution of suspected criminals when the Crown does not have sufficient evidence to secure a criminal conviction. In Ontario (Attorney General) v. Lee, for example, the Crown didn’t even lay charges for lack of hard evidence, but in the absence of a believable explanation from the accused, the court ordered forfeiture of a house worth approximately $457,000. This is a clear example of how civil forfeiture legislation shifts the onus away from the state and onto the accused to prove their innocence.

 

In other cases, such as Alberta (Justice and Attorney General) v. Chan, the Crown has been able to achieve forfeiture after a criminal conviction has been secured and the defendant has served his or her time. This amounts to a circumvention of the rule against double jeopardy, and essentially imposes a second punishment which is, in many cases, far more onerous than the criminal penalty itself.

 

Provincial civil forfeiture authorities have been known to claim that forfeiture is meant to be “compensatory” as opposed to “punitive,” and can therefore be imposed alongside criminal sanctions. By separating this process from the normal criminal sentencing, however, provincial governments have opened the door to grossly disproportionate global punishments in a lot of cases.

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Jeremy Maddock
Jeremy Maddock

Jeremy Maddock is the editor of Civil Forfeiture.ca, a comprehensive index of Canadian civil forfeiture cases and resources.

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