Respect the presumption of innocence

Respect the presumption of innocence Open letter to Justice Minister Marian Horne re Bill #82, Civil Forfeiture Act: Thank you for meeting with me to discuss my concerns regarding Bill No. 82, Civil Forfeiture Act, and for your willingness to consider a

Open letter to Justice Minister Marian Horne re Bill #82, Civil Forfeiture Act:

Thank you for meeting with me to discuss my concerns regarding Bill No. 82, Civil Forfeiture Act, and for your willingness to consider amendments.

I commend you for listening to the request made by myself and others, and agreeing to hold public consultations on this bill.

Many Yukoners are very concerned with the sweeping powers the proposed legislation would enact. While I do not doubt it is well-intentioned, I want to again emphasize my opinion that in its current form, Bill No. 82 takes a step too far and erodes property rights.

The right to own property is fundamental to a free and democratic society. It is critical that in seeking to reduce the profitability of crime we do not imperil the right of citizens to own property and not be subject to the possibility of unreasonable seizure of that property.

I am particularly concerned with the fact Bill No. 82 allows for a finding that unlawful activity occurred even if a person has never been charged with an offence, or has been acquitted. Allowing a person who has never been convicted of a crime to be punished for that crime is contrary to the principles of a free and democratic society. Loss of property can be a more severe punishment than incarceration.

I welcome the decision to hold public consultation, and encourage the Yukon government to listen to and respect the will of Yukon citizens, and not rule out any possible outcomes from consultation, including the possibility of withdrawing Bill No. 82, Civil Forfeiture Act.

In the interest of having an informed public discussion, I ask that you ensure citizens are made fully aware of the existing provisions under the Criminal Code Part XII.2, Proceeds of Crime, and given the chance to debate whether Bill No. 82 should be amended or withdrawn.

The Criminal Code Part XII.2, Proceeds of Crime, already allows a court to find that a convicted offender has engaged in a pattern of criminal activity, and provides for the forfeiture of assets “on a balance of probabilities” if “the income of the offender from sources unrelated to designated offences cannot reasonably account for the value of all the property of the offender.”

The critical difference between those provisions and Bill No. 82 is that the Criminal Code requires a person to be convicted of a criminal offence before an order of forfeiture can be made. While this makes it harder to seize the proceeds of crime, it also reduces the chance of an innocent person being punished for a crime they never committed.

That there are people profiting from criminal activity whose assets cannot be successfully seized is indisputable. Likewise, there are people guilty of violent acts who are acquitted on a technicality, or whose lawyers successfully argue that ‘a reasonable doubt’ exists.

Both situations are offensive to almost everyone. Neither is cause for eliminating the presumption of innocence.

In closing, I want to again thank you for allowing all Yukoners to consider the merits and downsides of the proposed legislation before the legislature considers it further.

Brad Cathers

MLA for Lake Laberge