British Columbia’s Civil Forfeiture Office says a woman who was charged with human trafficking and acquitted cannot sue the agency for attempting to seize her home – but the woman’s lawyer disagrees, calling the office’s conduct outrageous.
Mumtaz Ladha was charged in May, 2011. The RCMP alleged she brought a young woman to Canada from Tanzania and forced her to work in her West Vancouver home for no pay and little food. Ms. Ladha was found not guilty in November, 2013, with the judge ruling the complainant was not credible.
Ms. Ladha filed a lawsuit against the provincial and federal governments in February of last year. She said the Civil Forfeiture Office – which can seize property linked to unlawful activity – made an “unfounded” attempt to seize her home. The office ended its attempt after she was acquitted. Ms. Ladha also accused the RCMP of conducting a “negligent” investigation.
A lawyer for the office told B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, in an application to have the part of the suit against the provincial government agency dismissed, that Ms. Ladha agreed that the forfeiture case could end without compensation to her, and cannot launch a separate proceeding now.
“Having consented to something, it’s not open to you to then come and say, ‘That was an outrageous pleading, it stretched believability, it was legally misconceived.’ Well, okay, even if we assume all of those things were true, that’s not for this court,” Andrew Gay said.
But David Martin, Ms. Ladha’s lawyer, said his client agreed to forego costs because the office left her little choice. He said Ms. Ladha had just endured a “horrific” criminal trial and the Civil Forfeiture Office said it would end its case only if she agreed not to pursue costs.
“[Mr. Gay] says the director [of civil forfeiture] is entitled to initiate even entirely misconceived actions that cause economic harm and that the only remedy available to the citizen is to seek costs within the [forfeiture attempt]. That’s it,” Mr. Martin said. “…My learned friend says apart from cost, there are no other remedies. There is no other accountability. It’s an extraordinary proposition.”
Mr. Martin said the Civil Forfeiture Office owed his client a duty of care – an assertion it has denied. Ms. Ladha’s family is claiming general, special, aggravated and punitive damages. The lawsuit says the family had legal fees of $392,630 for the criminal case and $159,331 for the civil forfeiture case.
The Globe and Mail has reported extensively on the Civil Forfeiture Office, which has been criticized for its aggressive attempts to seize homes, vehicles and cash, even from people who are not convicted or charged. The office was introduced as a way to fight organized crime, but has come to have a far broader reach. Critics have questioned some of the cases it takes on, calling it a cash cow.
A report by the Canadian Constitution Foundation earlier this week found civil-forfeiture programs across the country have trampled on the rights of citizens and seized property from innocent people. The foundation said the offices – which operate in eight provinces – are neither transparent nor accountable. It gave B.C.’s office a grade of “F.”
Ms. Ladha’s lawsuit – which also lists her husband and three children as plaintiffs – calls the office’s conduct “egregious.” The document says one of Ms. Ladha’s daughters lost her job of four years after the office inaccurately suggested in a court filing she had also been charged.
The notice of civil claim accuses the office of taking “unreasonable legal positions.” It says one of the rationales offered by the office was that Ms. Ladha violated the province’s Employment Standards Act, meaning she engaged in unlawful activity and could therefore be pursued under the Civil Forfeiture Act. The case is due back in court on Wednesday.Report Typo/Error