Downtown Vancouver, BC with bridge over harbour

Proposed changes to civil forfeiture legislation in British Columbia would step up the provincial authority’s ability to seize assets believed to be the proceeds of crime.

The province’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General announced legislative proposals today that would, among other things, make it easier for the government’s Civil Forfeiture Office (CFO) to track funds before they can be sent offshore.

“With modern technology, international organized crime groups and domestic gangs that amass wealth from criminal activities can attempt to liquidate assets or transfer wealth out of reach of provincial authorities,” the ministry said in a statement today. “The amendments will make it easier for the CFO to identify, trace and obtain forfeiture of these crime proceeds before they disappear – for example, by empowering the office to obtain more, basic information from banks and others about those who may possess proceeds of unlawful activity.”

Additionally, the proposed revisions would allow the CFO to seek preservation orders in court before it brings formal proceedings. “This pre-emptive ability is another new tool that will help to prevent criminals from transferring suspected proceeds of crime out of the CFO’s reach before it files an application in court,” it says.

For assets linked to organized crime, the illegal drug trade, or gang activity, the proposals would also shift the onus to defendants to prove their funds are not derived from illegal activity — enabling the province to more easily seize financial assets in such cases.

“This is the most significant revision of this legislation in the 13-year history of the civil forfeiture program, yet all the changes further its original goal: to undermine the profit motive driving some of the most violent criminal activity in our province,” said Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.