Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

An image from the website of B.C.'s Civil Forfeiture office.

Josef Schwarz was in a catch-22. The tenant living in his rental property was accused of being involved in drug activity, but provincial law stipulated he could not evict her unless she was convicted of a crime.

B.C.'s Civil Forfeiture Office, which seizes property connected with unlawful activity, went after the $300,000 house, claiming the woman's continued presence there would lead to more crime.

Mr. Schwarz's 16-month fight to keep the home ended this week, when the office abandoned the attempt without explanation. The case – described by a civil liberties expert as "outrageous" – was another black mark for the agency, which has been criticized for the aggressiveness of its operations. Some have called it a cash cow.

Story continues below advertisement

B.C.'s Civil Forfeiture Office has seized $6-million more in property than a similar agency in Ontario that was opened three years earlier. The B.C. office does not need criminal charges or a conviction to pursue a case. Over the past year, The Globe and Mail has reported the stories of people who have had to fight to keep homes, vehicles, cash and even a coin collection because of connections – some of them indirect – to crimes or allegations of crime. (You can read more here and here.)

Mr. Schwarz, a lawyer, bought the property in May, 2012. His tenant moved in that September.

The RCMP raided it in January, 2013, according to a notice of civil claim the forfeiture office filed in B.C. Supreme Court. Police searched it again in February and April of that year. The documents say officers found drugs each time, although amounts are listed only for the third raid – about 11 grams of marijuana, and 0.1 grams of crack cocaine. Police also found a digital scale and empty plastic baggies, the documents say. The court documents did not indicate why the tenant was not charged.

The office filed the bid to seize the house in October, 2013, saying Mr. Schwarz showed complete disregard for "drug activity and nuisance problems" there. It said the property was likely to be used for further unlawful acts and should be forfeited.

Mr. Schwarz said in court documents that the Residential Tenancy Branch advised him he could not evict his tenant, since no conviction was associated with the property and there was no damage, or negative impact on other tenants.

He said he encouraged the RCMP to pursue criminal charges, and in April, 2013, met with his tenant, who assured him there would be no further problems. The third raid happened four days later.

In the meantime, the civil forfeiture office has come under intense scrutiny.

Story continues below advertisement

A B.C. Supreme Court judge this week approved an application from the office to dismiss the proceedings against Mr. Schwarz. No reason was provided.

Mr. Schwarz, in a brief interview, expressed relief the proceedings were over, but also frustration.

"I'm done with it, it's been 16 months," he said.

Neither party was awarded costs. When asked about his legal fees, Mr. Schwarz would only say, "I had to retain counsel, let's put it that way. There's a cost to that."

Jay Solomon, Mr. Schwarz's lawyer, said the Civil Forfeiture Office made a pragmatic decision to drop the case. He said he had recently had discussions with the lawyer for the agency, but would not go into detail.

"I think they've heard the criticism. I think they've listened and they're taking a bit of a different approach to these cases," he said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

A B.C. Ministry of Justice spokesperson, in an e-mail, said the case was settled with the consent of all parties.

The forfeiture office has seized about $52-million in property since it opened in 2006. The Ontario office has seized $45.6-million in property since 2003.

Micheal Vonn, policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called the case outrageous.

"What exactly is the landlord supposed to do?" she asked.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies