The B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office is getting more and more ingenious – too ingenious.
This month, Seyed Nima Razavi Zadeh was convicted of sexual assault. He is in custody pending sentencing. In the interim, the CFO is moving to seize his condominium, which he bought nine years ago for $290,000. The CFO will argue that the condominium unit was a "staging ground" for his crime and possibly others.
Yes, Mr. Razavi Zadeh committed a crime, was convicted and will be sentenced. But the civil forfeiture law was created to go after the proceeds of organized crime. In this case, as in many others, the CFO is stretching the law far beyond its original intent and beyond what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should allow. Does his crime justify the expropriation of his property without compensation, or even making him homeless?
Odd enough as this case is, at least it involves an actual criminal offence. B.C.'s CFO has a long history of seizing property from people convicted of nothing.
Consider this: Five years ago, the RCMP entered a house in Surrey, B.C., suspecting a grow-op. A safe was found in a three-year-old child's bedroom; there was $129,820 inside. The child's father, Dennis Johnson, said he kept thousands of dollars at home because he didn't believe in banks and didn't trust them. Charges were laid.
But three years later, a provincial court judge threw out the charges of marijuana production and theft of electricity because of delay. The Johnsons are also pursuing a remedy for what they say were Charter breaches when the police entered their house.
Enter the Civil Forfeiture Office. It is suing the Johnsons in a civil claim for unpaid electricity. The local electricity authority was not the plaintiff, but rather the CFO, which now has a lengthy history of incongruous, sometimes oppressive claims, often against people with a tenuous connection to an offence, alleged or proven.
In mid-July, Justice Miriam Maisonville of the B.C. Supreme Court decided to split off the Johnsons' Charter breach claims from the CFO's alleged siphoning off of electricity. But there is no longer any underlying offence that could entitle the CFO to the $129,820 and other chunks of cash that were lying about.
These bizarre underpinnings for forfeiture of property resemble Charles Dickens' Bleak House or, much further back, Aristophanes' The Wasps. The B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office is becoming a satire – of itself. But if you're its target, you aren't laughing.