Pubdate: Mon, 01 Nov 2004
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2004 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Steve Lambert, Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Outlaw Bikers)


Members Could Be Stripped Of Property, Even If Not Convicted Of

THE Manitoba government is moving ahead with a controversial law that
would strip suspected gang members of their assets even if they are
not convicted of a crime.

"It will be in force very shortly, in the next few weeks," said Jeff
Schnoor, executive director of policy development with Manitoba Justice.

The Criminal Property Forfeiture Act was approved by the legislature
last spring. Since then, justice officials have been working out
details of the law before enacting it.

The detailed regulations will outline how the seized assets are to be

"It's going to set out the procedures that have to be followed for the
sale of property once it's been forfeited," said Schnoor.

The law would allow police to seize the homes, cars, cash and other
property of any person, as long as they could convince a judge that
the person is a member of a criminal organization. The onus would then
be on the suspected gang member to prove the assets were earned
through a legitimate income and not the proceeds of crime.

The Manitoba government would sell the forfeited property and use the
proceeds to fund legal aid or crime-prevention initiatives.

The Opposition Conservatives support the idea of cracking down on
gangs, but argue the law is unconstitutional.

"This legislation will survive until the first lawyer takes a run at
it," said Tory justice critic Gerald Hawranik.

"Without a conviction, there can be a seizure of property, and that's
where we think that it won't meet the constitutional test."

The government argues it has already received legal advice that the
law will stand up in court. "The important thing to remember with this
legislation is that it's not criminal legislation," said Schnoor.

"Nobody is charged with anything, nobody's convicted of anything,
there is no criminal record, there are no penalties.

"This is simply about whether or not property is properly held by
individuals. It's a civil matter. The civil standard applies and
there's nothing out of the ordinary about that."

But critics argue the seizure of property is a penalty -- one that
should not be imposed on people who have no criminal

The Manitoba law is somewhat akin to an idea being promoted on
Parliament Hill by the three federal opposition parties.

The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Quebecois want a law passed that would
strip members of organized crime of their assets unless they could
prove the assets were obtained through legitimate means.

Conservative MP Vic Toews said last week the law would only apply to
people already convicted of a crime.

The Manitoba government has been under increasing pressure this year
to crack down on crime. Winnipeg is on track to record its highest
number of homicides in one year -- the number had reached 30 by last

In June, a high-profile trial of five suspected Hells Angels
associates fell through. The Crown stayed charges ranging from arson
to conspiracy to commit murder due to the unreliability of a key Crown
witness. Two weeks ago, Winnipeg police arrested 35 alleged members
and associates of the Zig Zag Crew -- a gang with close ties to the
Hells Angels -- in drug raids on 14 homes throughout the city.

Police said they seized 1.75 kilograms of cocaine, about seven
kilograms of marijuana and other drugs.
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