The province of British Columbia says a lawsuit involving its Civil Forfeiture Office should be thrown out of court because the government agency did not act in bad faith when it attempted to seize a woman's multimillion-dollar home and merely relied on information forwarded by the RCMP.
Mumtaz Ladha was charged with human trafficking 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 in the case was not credible.
Ms. Ladha filed a lawsuit against the provincial and federal governments in February. She said British Columbia's Civil Forfeiture Office – which seizes property linked to unlawful activity – made an "unfounded" attempt to seize her home, finally dropping the case after she was acquitted. Ms. Ladha also accused the RCMP of conducting a "negligent" investigation.
The province, in its 12-page response to Ms. Ladha's civil claim, says the case should be dismissed. The response, written by lawyer Andrew Gay, says there is no evidence the director of civil forfeiture demonstrated bad faith. Any damage to the reputation of Ms. Ladha or her family occurred as a result of the criminal case or, in one instance, because of incorrect information that was provided to the director by the RCMP, the response says.
The court document also challenges the suggestion the civil forfeiture case was unfounded, given the lengthy file that was forwarded to the office's director by the RCMP.
"It was reasonable for the director to commence the underlying claim on the basis of information made available to him by the RCMP. A clear measure of this is that Crown counsel believed that the criminal charge-approval standard was met and that there was a sufficient basis to proceed to trial with the criminal charges," says the document, which was filed in B.C. Supreme Court late last month.
The response says Ms. Ladha did not pursue costs when the civil forfeiture case was dropped, and in fact agreed not to. It says pursuing damages now, in a separate action, is an abuse of process.
Ms. Ladha's notice of civil claim accused the Civil Forfeiture Office of pursuing her home for the "improper purpose of meeting its financial targets." She also said one of her daughters lost her job after the office inaccurately suggested the daughter, too, had been criminally charged.
In its response, the province disputes the suggestion that the office takes on cases to meet financial targets.
"A proceeding commenced in one fiscal period is not likely to result in forfeiture in that same fiscal period, and indeed may take years to resolve, and accordingly will not enable the director to meet any alleged 'financial target' for that period," the response says.
On the allegation involving Ms. Ladha's daughter, the province says it was the RCMP that provided incorrect information. It says the office's pleadings were amended two weeks after they were originally filed to exclude Ms. Ladha's daughter.
The Globe and Mail has reported extensively on British Columbia's Civil Forfeiture Office over the past year. The office does not need a conviction or charges to pursue a case, and critics have called it a cash cow for government. British Columbia's office has seized millions of dollars more than a similar office in Ontario, despite opening three years later.
The federal government also filed its response to Ms. Ladha's civil claim late last month. The 28-page document, filed by the Attorney-General of Canada, denies the RCMP investigation was negligent. It says the lead RCMP officers on the case acted in the proper course and scope of their duties. It says Ms. Ladha's arrest was based upon reasonable and probable grounds.
The federal government's response denies that statements made by RCMP officers following Ms. Ladha's arrest were defamatory. It says the statements – such as the assertion the complainant was fed "table scraps" or arrived "without papers" – fall under the defences of fair comment and qualified privilege.