Three B.C. Hells Angels clubhouses should be forfeited to the province because they are likely to be used to plan crimes in the future, the province’s Civil Forfeiture Office said on Monday in the first day of a civil trial in Vancouver.
Brent Olthuis, the lawyer representing the office, in his opening statement told B.C. Supreme Court the clubhouses serve local chapters of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
He said one of the main purposes of the group is the facilitation or commission of serious offences that are likely to benefit the Hells Angels. He said the Hells Angels pursue those benefits through a brand that is in part associated with violence and intimidation.
“If these properties remain held on behalf of these chapters of the Hells Angels, they are likely to be used by members to engage in unlawful activities,” he said.
Mr. Olthuis said the Civil Forfeiture Office is not alleging every member of the Hells Angels has committed a crime, nor that every member has a propensity to do so.
But he said the “world, national, regional and local structure of the Hells Angels provides and is intended to provide – this is deliberate – a brand that its members, acting alone or acting in concert, can monetize through criminal means.”
Lawyers representing the Hells Angels have not yet opened their case. They are expected to argue that a section of the province’s civil-forfeiture legislation is unconstitutional and the B.C. government has created a new criminal process that lacks the presumption of innocence and protections against self-incrimination.
The Globe and Mail has reported extensively on the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office, which does not need a criminal conviction or charges to pursue a file. The office was originally billed as a way to fight organized crime, but has come to have a far broader reach. The Globe has interviewed those who have had to fight to keep their homes, vehicles and cash. Others have been unable to afford a defence. Cases led by the office face a lower standard of proof than criminal cases – on a balance of probabilities rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a 2016 report, the Canadian Constitution Foundation said civil-forfeiture programs across the country – eight, in total – trampled on the rights of citizens and seized property from innocent people. It gave the civil-forfeiture regimes in B.C. and Ontario a grade of “F.”
The B.C. office has netted more than $80-million in property since it opened in 2006. It launched its case involving the Nanaimo clubhouse in late 2007 and began proceedings against Vancouver and Kelowna clubhouses in 2012. Mr. Olthuis told the court the properties have fortified entrances and are externally monitored by surveillance systems.
He said the clubhouses are where Hells Angels members will meet while conspiring to commit crimes. He said they also function as intelligence hubs and give the Hells Angels a clear presence in the community.
“The clubhouses function as planted flags. They’re warnings or reminders to rival organizations, rival criminal organizations, that the areas in question, the places of these clubhouses, are Hells Angels turf,” he said.
Mr. Olthuis said the court will hear the three Hells Angels chapters follow an established program for accepting new members. He said a person is eligible to be accepted if that person has known a member for a lengthy period of time and has no affiliation with law enforcement.
He said an individual who is eligible must demonstrate loyalty and utility to the club, he said.
Mr. Olthuis said the court will also hear of the support the Hells Angels provides for incarcerated members to ensure they remain loyal even while serving time.