Nunatsiaq News
LETTERS: Nunavut July 25, 2016 - 11:30 am

Nunavut’s proposed Forfeiture Act a threat to constitutional rights?

Cash-grab law could threaten Nunavut’s most marginalized residents


From the Ontario Ministry of Justice web site: “The process for civil forfeiture begins when a designated institution, such as the police or a government ministry, submits a case to the reviewing authority, an independent Crown counsel in the ministry of the attorney general. That counsel decides whether the statutory criteria in the Civil Remedies Act have been met.”

Not exactly a “court” review as Nunavut Department of Justice representatives have described. Whither the “pesky” trial judge, jury, court clerk, defence attorney, the press and any witnesses?

Since the ubiquitous “administrative forfeitures” by Canadian provincial Civil Forfeiture Offices in amounts less than $75,000 generally require that the CFO only mail a letter and to post a forfeiture notice online, what does the proposed Nunavut Civil Forfeiture Act imply for marginalized Nunavut residents who don’t have a stable mailing address or regular access to the internet?

They may therefore, be likely to miss a deadline to object to a seizure.

What does seizing the young offender’s bicycle or cell phone for selling $20 of weed at the grocery store or seizing the cash and vehicle from the big “patik” winner on government pay days say about the proportionality of these “sentences” arranged privately between a beat cop and some anonymous bureaucrat?

There are any number of reasons why residents in the vast majority of Nunavut communities lacking a bank or credit union might carry or keep significant amounts of cash.

Local carvers, artists, guides and entrepreneurs in communities with chronic unemployment above 50 per cent might find themselves exposed if an over-zealous cop entered a residence in, say, Pond Inlet, and decided that someone’s wad of cash was “suspicious” or was broadly associated with a criminal activity.

Bodily harm and sexual interference are criminal activities now commonly cited by provincial CFOs as crimes deemed eligible for asset forfeiture — as well as suspected contraventions of both the Wildlife Act and the Employment Standards Act?!?

Will the now well-armed Nunavut fisheries officers be seizing boats and equipment from offenders caught snagging char at the Sylvia Grinnell River falls?

Will an outfitter in Grise Firod have his snowmobiles seized if he pays his guides or suppliers “under the table,” contrary to territorial labour laws?

Will property owners and local housing associations be subject to property seizure if tenants are suspected of illicit activities on their premises?

Possession or consumption of alcohol contrary to the Nunavut Liquor Act and all its associated elements, including providing alcohol to underage drinkers are among “provincial act offenses” the Department of Justice representatives are now proposing be made eligible for civil forfeiture.

Making a gift of alcohol to an ineligible, but adult, person is a crime under the Act. Under the proposed regime the Australian ship, Fortrus, could have been seized in Cambridge Bay for contravention of the Nunavut Liquor Act.

Even the scores of victims of abuse across Nunavut by a serial, predatory teacher who were handed victim settlement checks from the government in amounts as large as $75,000 or more could find themselves at risk of re-victimization by an arbitrary regime without any judicial oversight or restraint.

Iqaluit RCMP once attempted to hold a witness to a crime in the remand cells at BCC until the upcoming trial was completed simply because he didn’t have a permanent address but this atrocious assault on the person’s civil liberties was overruled.

Contrary to recent claims by Department of Justice representatives during consultations on the proposed civil forfeiture statutes, the vast majority of civil asset seizures don’t originate from crime “kingpins” and are most often in amounts less than $1,000.

They are typically seized from suspects neither accused nor charged and low level or juvenile suspects who don’t have the knowledge, time or resources to defend themselves from a powerful cash-quota driven system

In Ontario, one report says “While confiscated funds are not remitted directly to police and prosecutors (as they are in the U.S.), these laws still create perverse incentives for police and other officials to demonstrate results to justify government spending on forfeiture programs.”

But ministry websites in Manitoba and Ontario contradict this and it should be noted that B.C. CFOs are kept on strict quotas to produce ever more cash.

If banks regularly report cash deposits and transfers above $10,000, the current statutes allow for fines up to $50,000 for contraventions of the Nunavut Liquor Act.

Since Nunavut policing is done solely by a federally funded and scrutinized force anyway, why “reinvent the wheel” at the potential expense of Nunavut’s constitutional rights and guarantees?

Philip Marsh

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