BC Expands Civil Forfeiture Act To Crack Down On Money Laundering

Written By Matthew Lomon on April 6, 2023
Vancouver mansion

The BC government is cracking down on money laundering and organized crime.

On March 30, the province introduced legislation expanding the Civil Forfeiture Act to target assets deemed proceeds of crime. This includes the following items purchased with currency obtained through unlawful means:

  • expensive vehicles
  • homes
  • luxury goods

The amendments came in response to recommendations from the Cullen Commission’s investigation into money laundering, in June 2022. It found that an unprecedented amount of illicit cash was laundered through British Columbia casinos over a 10-year span.

Unexplained wealth orders become key anti-money laundering tool

BC lawmakers are now heavily relying on unexplained wealth orders to thwart common money laundering tactics. UWOs will require people to explain how they acquired high-level assets, as seen above, if investigators suspect unlawful activity.

Mike Farnworth, the public safety minister and solicitor general for BC, told CBC that UWOs are essential as money-laundering schemes evolve.

“Money-laundering schemes have become increasingly sophisticated, and unexplained wealth orders will be a key tool in our toolbox to combat organized crime,” Farnworth said.

“By exposing property for forfeiture actions, we are removing this incentive and sending a clear message to anyone involved in organized crime that crime doesn’t pay.”

In a press release, the province explained that UWOs target criminals who are also responsible for BC’s toxic drug epidemic. As a result, the orders will, “help the Civil Forfeiture Office build stronger cases against assets used in organized crime, drug trafficking, and money laundering.”

Farnworth echoed this sentiment in an impassioned response denouncing this brand of criminal behaviour.

“I think the public is fed up and sick and tired of organized crime and the increasingly sophisticated ways in which they hide their ill-gotten gains.”

UWOs face pushback from civil libertarians

Despite other forms of civil forfeiture existing in BC since 2006, civil libertarian groups are against the latest instalment. Many argue that UWOs undermine the presumption of innocence and place an onus of proof on the recipient of the seizure order.

Vibert Jack, litigation director for the BC Civil Liberties Union, told the CBC that he sees the orders as counter-intuitive and blatantly unconstitutional.

“It creates a scenario where British Columbians may be forced to go to court to prove they aren’t criminals, and in our view that’s simply unconstitutional.”

Further, Jack also noted that civil forfeitures overwhelmingly prey on the poor and marginalized rather than rich criminals.

Calvin Chrustie, a former RCMP senior operations official for transnational crime, also raised concerns but from a law enforcement angle.

“I commend them for the initiative, I am concerned about the magnitude of the problem,” he said. “It may impact some of the lower level. But I question in terms of what it can do in terms of the higher level.”

In light of all the converging opinions, Farnworth believes in the validity of the program. He says UWOs will have guardrails set to limit the Civil Forfeitures Office’s power to ensure only lawful cases proceed.

“Unexplained wealth orders are… an effective tool. It’s being used in a number of jurisdictions, and we expect it will work here,” he said.

Presently, similar laws already exist both domestically and internationally in Manitoba, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

More changes help support provincial initiatives

In addition to unexpected wealth orders, the expansion of the Civil Forfeiture Act addresses other related problem areas, such as:

  • Making it easier to obtain information from public organizations (ex. real estate boards).
  • “Eliminating the limitation period on forfeiture proceedings.”
  • Rooting out the province’s “illegal cannabis market.”

Per the province, money collected from liquidated, seized assets will go towards the prevention of crime and supporting victims.

These programs run by the Civil Forfeitures Office have received $70 million in grants since 2006.

Photo by Shutterstock
Matthew Lomon Avatar
Written by
Matthew Lomon

Matthew Lomon has been a contributor at Catena Media’s network of regional sites since July 2022. He first broke into covering the legal North American gambling industry with PlayCanada. Since then, Matthew's reporting has extended to PlayMichigan, PlayPennsylvania, and PlayIllinois. Based out of Toronto, Ontario, Matthew is an avid (bordering on fanatic) sports fan.

View all posts by Matthew Lomon
Privacy Policy