Pubdate: Fri, 07 Oct 2005
Source: Esquimalt News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Esquimalt News
Author: Jeff Nagel


Mayors and councillors pressed provincial cabinet ministers last week to
explain why B.C. has been so slow to hit criminals in their wallets by
seizing illegally acquired property.

"We're not tough enough on major criminals," Courtenay councillor Larry
Jangula told a public safety panel discussion during the recent Union of
B.C. Municipalities convention.

He pointed to crystal meth lab operators in particular.

"These people have the ability to seriously damage people forever," Jangula
said. "We never hear of maximum sentences. It's common knowledge all across
North America that B.C. is the softest on all drug offences that there is."

Jangula noted an existing federal law regulating seized criminal assets has
a major loophole.

"The lawyers have first crack at getting whatever money comes out of that
and often there's nothing left over," he said.

Attorney-General Wally Oppal confirmed the Criminal Code "for some reason"
lets the accused and their lawyers apply to use the assets for reasonable
legal and living expenses. But he said the province has introduced its own
Civil Forfeiture Act to short-circuit that provision and bar criminals and
lawyers from tapping the money.

Instead it will go to crime prevention and victim assistance.

"The best way to deal with drug dealers is to seize their assets," Oppal
said. "Some of us have been saying that for years. This government listened
to that and responded to that."

The bill hasn't yet become law and Victoria is carefully watching the status
of a similar Ontario law to see if it survives legal challenges.

Solicitor General John Les applauded local bylaws in Surrey and Abbotsford
that have proved an effective means for shutting down marijuana grow-ops.
Local authorities post inspection notices on suspected grow houses, often
forcing cultivators to quickly move and home owners to undergo expensive

"The objective here is to hit them in their pocketbook," Les said, adding
the technique doesn't usually yield charges.

"It means for a lot of these people, crime isn't going to pay any more."

Oppal also found himself under attack for the B.C. Liberal government's move
in its previous term to shut down courthouses as a cost-saving measure.
Councillors from Sidney and Langley said their citizens, and in some cases
their police officers, spend too much time commuting to distant court houses
since closures in their communities.

Sidney Coun. Tim Chad said police in his area "find themselves down in
Victoria wandering around halls twiddling their thumbs waiting for their
cases to be brought up when they could be in our communities 20 minutes

Oppal promised to meet to hear the concerns in detail.
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