Since 2009 the Manitoba Criminal Property Forfeiture Unit has operated under the authority of the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act which allows the director of the unit to start civil forfeiture proceedings against property believed to be a proceed or instrument of crime. These proceedings are heard by a judge of the of the Court of Queen’s Bench who decides whether or not to order the forfeiture.
Civil proceedings under The Criminal Property Forfeiture Act are entirely separate from criminal law. They:
- do not rely on criminal prosecutions
- are initiated against property, not people
- do not create criminal records
- do not create findings of guilt or innocence
Since inception, the unit has confiscated over $4.5 million dollars worth of property believed to be proceeds of crime.
All seized assets are converted to cash and eventually dispersed in accordance with the Act which ensures the Forfeiture Unit is a self sustaining venture. Once operating costs are deducted the residual funds are dispersed as follows;
- to compensate victims of crime
- to remedy the effect of the unlawful activity that led to the forfeiture
- to promote safer communities through payments to Law Enforcement Agencies for programs intended to enhance training and crime prevention
- to support programs and services that benefit victims of crime via payments to the Victim’s Assistance Fund
- to promote safer communities through payments to benefit designated community programs
The Act has broad sweeping powers that can be applied in unique circumstances, such as the seizure of a home used by an offender to commit a sexual assault on a young female. The Forfeiture Unit justified the seizure indicating the suspect used the home to groom the child for sexual abuse.
In an interview in the Winnipeg Sun, University of Law professor Michelle Gallant expresses her view that the legislation allows for property to be seized to easily.
“If you take someone’s house for an assault, you’re really punishing them,” said Gallant. “There’s no question an assault is serious, but there’s a serious imbalance of the consequences.” “(For) a person with a house worth $140,000, if that was their entire life savings, that would be clearly punitive,” she added.
The thing Gallant overlooks is the fact that the loss of a house, or even the loss of life savings is a trite punishment in contrast to the serious emotional and physical harm victim’s of sexual abuse suffer. Let’s not compare the loss of money for the commission of an offenders intentional act to the permanent loss of innocence and security, loss of dignity, loss of self-esteem and the loss of spirit experienced by victims of such crimes.
Offenders who commit these crimes are making a choice, with every choice comes a consequence.
In reality, the Forfeiture Unit spends most of its time seizing the assets of members of Organized Crime and criminal street gangs. Common seizures include:
- Residential property purchased with proceeds of crime (Hells Angels Club House)
- Residential property converted for marihuana grow operations
- High end vehicles and motorcycles purchased with proceeds of crime
- Cash – seized from Organized Crime members, drug dealers and gang members
“You’re taking money, you’re taking equipment, you’re taking vehicles, you’re taking houses away from organized crime and it’s really having an impact on interrupting what organized crime does,” said Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan.
How do you not get behind that?
The Manitoba Criminal Property Forfeiture Unit is staffed by several former Police Officer’s who left the WPS with a tremendous amount of knowledge, expertise and experience regarding criminal investigations. These former officers were highly motivated crime fighters who deserve much credit for the success of the Forfeiture Unit.
According to my sources, the Forfeiture Unit has not lost one contested case to date.
In a Province know for inconsistent sentencing and soft justice, the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act is one piece of legislation that literally takes a bite out of crime. The Act is being hailed by Law Enforcement Officers as the last line of defense and one of the few initiatives that truly sends the message that crime doesn’t pay.
The WPS media release below is a typical case that might involve the Forfeiture Unit. The evidence would surely suggest this property is being used as an “instrument” of crime.
MARIHUANA GROW OPERATION ARREST – R13-0021997
On April 4, 2013, members of the Winnipeg Police Service Green Team, with the assistance of the District 2 Community Support Unit and Tactical Support Team executed a Controlled Drug and Substance Act search warrant in the 1100 block of Empress Street.
As a result of the search the following was seized:
- 443 Marihuana plants – estimated street value of over $484,960.00
- 31 grams of dry marihuana – estimated street value of $310.00
- Grow operation equipment – valued at $25,000.00
A 60 year old male of Winnipeg was located at the time of the search and arrested. He is facing the following charges: Production of Controlled Substance – Cannabis (Marihuana), Possessing Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking – Cannabis (Marihuana) & Mischief Over $5000.00.
He was released on a Promise to Appear.
Winnipeg Sun Story – Plenty of Crime-Tainted Items Seized