The B.C. government has pledged to crack down on locally organized criminal elements, including money launderers and corrupt foreigners looking to park illicit funds in the province.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has tabled changes to the Civil Forfeiture Act that would allow officials to apply to courts for unexplained wealth orders, making it harder for criminals to hide their illicit assets .
The order would force individuals suspected of crimes to explain how they acquired their wealth and allow for the forfeiture of property by inverting the burden of proof without proving criminal conduct. This could include local drug dealers benefiting from the toxic drug crisis hiding real estate gains, or foreign authorities with limited income but expensive assets.
While the order will not result in automatic forfeiture of property, it will allow sufficient evidence to be presented in a civil suit if a lawsuit is brought. Meanwhile, police do not have access to these orders for criminal investigations.
“By exposing property for forfeiture, we are removing that incentive and sending a clear message to anyone involved in organized crime that crime is not profitable,” Farnworth said.
Investigating Money Laundering in B.C. Chair Austin Cullen recommended these orders be added to the legislative arsenal in a final report released in September 2020.
“Let me see if I can put it as bluntly as possible: Just because a gangster’s spouse isn’t involved in illegal activity doesn’t mean they can keep the house,” Farnworth said earlier this month.
To ensure that such orders are prevented from being abused, Farnworth said the Office of Civil Forfeiture will have to prove that the alleged offender holds assets in B.C. worth $75,000 or more, that they do not have sufficient income to purchase the property, and that they have serious Alleges that the property was used in an illegal activity, or that the property was obtained directly or indirectly as a result of an illegal activity.
But not everyone thinks these safeguards are enough.
“UWO undermines the rights to privacy, the presumption of innocence and the right to silence,” the BC Civil Liberties Association said in its response to the so-called Cullen Commission.
“They’ve only been used in a few countries, and there’s no solid evidence that they work.”
Farnworth said his department had looked at similar legislation in New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. British authorities had to amend the legislation after a court challenge.
While Farnworth acknowledged that history, he expressed confidence that the new changes would survive legal challenges. He also expressed confidence that the new legislation would take hold in public opinion.
British Columbians are tired of organized crime, he said.
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Government of British Columbia