British Columbia's Civil Forfeiture Office is attempting to seize a condo that was owned by a man convicted of sexual assault, arguing he used the property as a "staging ground" and is likely to pursue further illegal activity if the suite isn't forfeited.
But the man's lawyer is questioning where his client could ever live, if any property he occupies is deemed likely to be subject to unlawful acts.
Seyed Nima Razavi Zadeh was convicted earlier this month of sexual assault and administering a stupefying or overpowering drug. The Civil Forfeiture Office's notice of civil claim says he served a drink containing GHB – sometimes referred to as a club or date-rape drug – to a woman he'd met for a date, and then sexually assaulted her at his home.
The notice of civil claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court this week, says Mr. Razavi Zadeh was earlier charged with sexually assaulting another woman in his apartment, and of administering the same drug. Charges in that case were dismissed, though the Civil Forfeiture Office – a provincial government agency – says the incidents show Mr. Razavi Zadeh was following a pattern.
"[Mr. Razavi Zadeh] used the property as a staging ground to commit multiple sexual assaults and to store GHB, which he used to facilitate these sexual assaults," the court document says.
"The property is an instrument of unlawful activity because it was used to engage in the unlawful activity that, in turn, caused or was likely to cause serious bodily harm to a person."
The Civil Forfeiture Office says Mr. Razavi Zadeh purchased the property in late 2006 for approximately $290,000.
However, it says he transferred ownership to his mother in February for one dollar.
The office says the transfer of ownership was designed to "hinder the plaintiff and/or others from obtaining their just and lawful remedies." It says the transfer should be set aside and the property forfeited.
Hovan Patey, the lawyer who represented Mr. Razavi Zadeh in the criminal case, said he has not yet been retained for the civil-forfeiture case. He said neither he nor Mr. Razavi Zadeh knew the civil case would be filed. He said the Crown decided not to pursue forfeiture in the criminal case.
Mr. Patey said he's not aware of the Civil Forfeiture Office and its director ever pursuing such a case before. He said it more traditionally goes after marijuana grow-operations and drug labs.
"They can fit the facts of the case within the governing legislation, but it still seems to be a stretch," he said. "… The ultimate question in the legislation is even if you fit within it, is it in the interests of justice to order forfeiture? And I think that's where they may run into some difficulty with the courts."
Mr. Patey said there is no link between the residence and the offence – he said it could have occurred anywhere. He questioned where his client could live in the future, if the Civil Forfeiture Office wins the case.
"If this home was a staging ground such that it exposed him to civil forfeiture, how could he argue that any future home wouldn't do the same thing? If the director's argument flies, it puts [Mr. Razavi Zadeh] in a very difficult spot and I think would put anyone who provided him with a home, either voluntarily or via rent, in a difficult spot," he said.
Lawrence Myers, who earlier worked on the case and is a senior partner at the same firm as Mr. Patey, said he's very concerned about the power the Civil Forfeiture Office and its director can wield.
He said it's very expensive to defend civil-forfeiture cases and the office seems to have "limitless resources."
He said it seems "disproportionate" to seize a property through civil court on the basis that a person was occupying it when a crime was committed.
"It's almost a double-jeopardy situation," he said.
The Globe and Mail has reported extensively on British Columbia's Civil Forfeiture Office over the past 18 months. The office was introduced as a way to fight organized crime, but has come to have a far broader reach and critics have questioned some of the cases it takes on.
Critics have also called the office – which does not need a conviction or charges to pursue a case – a cash cow, and it has seized millions of dollars more than a similar office in Ontario, despite opening three years later.
Mr. Razavi Zadeh has not been sentenced in the sexual assault case. He is due back in court in September and remains in custody.
He earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of breach of recognizance. He had, after the first incident, been ordered not to have contact alone with a female, and not to possess any drugs for which he did not have a prescription.
Mr. Razavi Zadeh did not have a criminal record before the two incidents. He was charged in the first case in September, 2013, and in the second case in July, 2014.