Vancouver – On February 21, 2014, the BC Court of Appeal released an oral judgment in Director of Civil Forfeiture v. Lloydsmith. This case concerns a claim made by the Director of Civil Forfeiture (Director) to forfeit a house under BC’s Civil Forfeiture Act. The Director’s claim is based on alleged evidence of a marijuana grow operation.
The trial judge ordered that issues concerning Mr. Lloydsmith’s rights and remedies under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be heard first and that the discovery of evidence from Mr. Lloydsmith would be limited at the outset of the proceeding. The trial judge found that there were several violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the manner in which the search was carried out at Mr. Lloydsmith’s home. The judge has not yet decided whether evidence should be excluded under the Charter.
The BCCLA is pleased with the Court of Appeal decision upholding the trial judge’s decision to hear arguments about Charter violations and remedies at an early stage in the proceeding. This will go some – albeit small – distance in attempting to level the very uneven playing field in civil forfeiture proceedings. We are also pleased that the Court highlighted many features of these proceedings that make them profoundly unfair and unjust.
The Court of Appeal recognized the “very high stakes” that are involved for individuals caught up in BC’s civil forfeiture laws. The Court also noted the power difference between individuals and the Director, and the great costs associated with challenging civil forfeiture. Civil forfeiture proceedings are not simply civil proceedings. The Court observed that the extra element in civil forfeiture cases is the “jeopardy faced by a civilian, at risk of losing a great deal and at risk of being labelled for criminal behaviour.”
The BCCLA is a longstanding opponent to civil forfeiture and will continue to advocate for the protection of individual rights as this area of the law develops.