Anybody would be surprised if he or she were charged with a driving infraction and was found guilty, and then their driver's licence was seized by the provincial government and sold to the highest bidder.
But, thanks to the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office, something quite like that has happened to the operator of a hunting guide business, Coast Mountain Outfitters, who over the years was found guilty of eight hunting infractions and had his operating license seized.
B.C., followed as a close second by Ontario, is the leading user of civil forfeiture in Canada. The predicament of Bill Milligan, the owner of Coast Mountain Outfitters, is by no means the most outrageous instance of this odd procedure.
Innocent bystanders, such as landlords, can be deprived of their property if their tenants have used premises for an illegal business, unbeknownst to the owner of the building.
Or sometimes property is confiscated even when no one has been actually charged, let alone found guilty. Or, again, a man who committed sexual assault in his condominium was deprived of his condominium – surely a home is not a weapon, whatever the sins of its owner may be.
Mr. Milligan and Coast Mountain Outfitters at least had a clear, direct connection to the infractions, although only fines could be levied – these were no indictable offences. He inherited the business when his parents both died in a plane crash. He was only 18. Allegedly, he may have cut some corners for his early clients; he's now 47. Last year, he was in negotiations to sell his rights to Coastal First Nations, an alliance of indigenous communities on the north and central coast of B.C. and Haida Gwaii.
Now, however, Mr. Milligan has reluctantly sold his interest – minus the unknown amount paid to the Civil Forfeiture Office – to the Nisga'a Nation, in the Skeena River valley in northwestern B.C.
The Nisga'a don't yet have expertise as licensed hunting guides, so they have hired Mr. Milligan as a consultant, which he says he enjoys. There is some reason to hope that the Civil Forfeiture Act will not act so high-handedly with the Nisga'a.