If you are charged with a criminal offence, the government may seize or attempt to seize your assets. They can do this using the forfeiture provisions of the Criminal Code or provincially using the civil forfeiture legislation.
In Alberta, the civil forfeiture regime is governed by the Victims Restitution and Compensation Payment Act (the “VRCPA”). This legislation targets property that has been derived from or used to engage in unlawful activity. The Alberta government has used this legislation to seize millions of dollars as well as homes and vehicles.
What are Civil Forfeiture Proceedings?
Even though they may have the same subject matter and involve the same police officers, civil forfeiture proceedings are separate and distinct from criminal charges. They are handled in civil court and have different evidentiary rules than criminal cases. Many of the constitutionally-enshrined protections that are automatic in criminal matters (such as the right to remain silent and the presumption of innocence) are reduced or non-existent in the civil forfeiture context.
Civil forfeiture has its own governing legislation and a significant body of case law. Defending a civil forfeiture matter is complex and requires expertise. The law in this area is relatively new and is rapidly developing.
What Should I do if I am Served with a Package of Civil Forfeiture Documents?
Regardless of whether or not you are facing criminal charges, if you are served with civil forfeiture documents you should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. These documents would be filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta and may include:
- An “Originating Application”
- A “Restraint Order” or an “Ex Parte Restraint Order” and
- An “Affidavit” of a Police Officer or Other Witness
Civil forfeiture proceedings are designed to move very quickly. If you ignore the situation or delay dealing with it, the government may get a judgement against you and simply take your property.
Can Civil Forfeiture Proceedings Impact my Criminal Matters?
Yes. If you are facing civil forfeiture proceedings, how the case is handled could have a significant impact on your criminal proceedings (and vise versa).
Not all criminal lawyers practice in the area of civil forfeiture. If your criminal case is complicated by a civil forfeiture issue, it is important that you obtain advice on that aspect on that aspect of the situation before making any major decisions in either matter.
Can You Handle my Civil Forfeiture Matter As Well?
Yes. Our firm has experience in civil forfeiture matters and can assist you with your case regardless of whether or not you are facing criminal charges. We can appear on your behalf at your next court date, help you plan a strategy and fight to get your property back.