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Asset forfeiture: sacrificing justice

Asset forfeiture: sacrificing justice

The Government has finally introduced its long-anticipated asset forfeiture legislation to the House as the Criminal Proceeds and Instruments Bill.

The bill allows the crown to seize assets from suspected criminals on a civil ("balance of probabilities") standard of proof. But the crown does not have to link the assets to any specific criminal activity; all it has to prove is that the target has engaged in "serious criminal activity" within the last seven years.

No specific criminal offence needs to be proved, and the bill is explicitly intended to be applied not just to those convicted of a criminal offence, but for those suspected of one (but for whom the police don't have enough evidence to prove it), or even those acquited in court. Worse, the onus of proof on the accused is reversed;

"Those who want to dispute forfeiture will have to prove their wealth has not been funded by criminal activity. If they can prove the value of restrained assets exceeds the benefits they derived from crime, the forfeiture will be reduced accordingly. If they can't prove that, their entire estate may be confiscated."

This violates fundamental norms of justice, such as the presumption of innocence and the prohibition on double jeopardy. Instead, it's proof by suspicion and guilty until proven innocent - Ahmed Zaoui standards of evidence.

Goff claims that

"No person stands to lose assets or profits that they have rightfully owned or gained"

However, the civil standard and the reversed burden of proof virtually guarantee it. While Goff may see things like the presumption of innocence and the onus of proof being on the crown as impediments to putting criminals behind bars, they are there for a very good reason: to prevent injustice. By removing those safeguards, Goff opens the door to innocent people, incorrectly suspected of criminal activity, having their houses seized.

But perhaps the most odious aspect of the legislation is Goff's emphasis on money. According to his press release, the bill "will reap millions" from criminals. Reading down, the government expects to gain $14 million a year. And we're sacrificing justice for that?

See also:

Asset forfeiture: the dangers of settlements

Asset forfeiture: "a valuable means of revenue collection"

Asset forfeiture: disappearing concerns

Ahmed Zaoui Standards of Evidence


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