Controversial law lets province get goods, even without charge

Street racers, crack houses, marijuana grow-ops, cash — you name it, the Ontario government has seized it using controversial forfeiture legislation.


According to a forthcoming report prepared for the attorney general’s ministry, Ontario police departments have made 170 seizures over the past four years, snatching $3.6 million in property and freezing an additional $11.5 million in assets.


The 17-page review is the first comprehensive examination of the impact of the Civil Remedies Act, which the former Progressive Conservative government introduced in 2001.


It reveals that almost $1 million has been distributed directly to crime victims and more than $900,000 has gone to crime prevention programs and upgrading police equipment.

Attorney General Michael Bryant said since the Liberals succeeded the Tories in 2003 they have exploited former Progressive Conservative attorney general Jim Flaherty’s landmark legislation.

“We’ve sought to use (the powers) in ways that were consistent with the legislation, but might not have been in Flaherty’s mind when they introduced it,” Bryant said in an interview.

“When we came into office, from my perspective it seemed as if the bill hadn’t really been used much at all,” said Bryant.

“We made an effort to do two things. Firstly, to send officials from the ministry around to different police departments across the province to inform them of this new tool that many of them were unaware of. The police have to take the first step and, as a result of that, more activity took place,” the attorney general said. “Secondly, I’ll admit I’m ripping a page out of the RICO book in the United States,” he said, referring to the federal U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act used against mobsters. Bryant said the RICO-like strategy has allowed police to grab a variety of assets and send a chill through organized crime syndicates.

Around the country

  • Ontario was the first province in Canada to enact such a law, but Quebec, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan have since passed or introduced similar legislation.