Pubdate: Wed, 03 Dec 2008
Source: Stettler Independent (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Stettler Independent
Author: Tom MacDougall


Legislation amended in the provincial legislature last week turned
Alberta's proceeds of crime bill from a cow chewing its cud into a
school of piranhas.

More commonly referred to as Bill 50, the Victims Restitution and
Compensation Payment Act adopted last Wednesday widely expands already
existing police powers.

Before the amendments, police were able to seize the property of
criminals if they could prove said property to be the proverbial
"proceeds of crime." That's not necessarily the easiest determination
for police to make.

Suppose your neighbourhood drug dealer - who also holds down a
legitimate day job - bought a family vehicle. His spouse kicked in a
little, his salary covered a bunch, but his sideline paid for all
leather interiors with backseat-mounted DVD players. Under the old
legislation, proving the vehicle was a benefit of criminal activity
was problematic. How much of his ability to buy the vehicle was the
result of ill-gotten gains, and how much was legitimate?

Now, however, that "proceeds" hobble is gone.

Police can now seize and apply to sell anything the courts agree to be
an instrument of crime - including that family vehicle if it was used
to make an illegal drop off or pick up.

Suddenly police have a much bigger stick. Cars, homes, ATVs, cell
phones, you name it; if police can convince the courts an item is "an
instrument of crime," the province can sell it off at auction.

Typically, this type of legislation is targeted at bigger criminals:
drug dealers, B&E perpetrators, gang members. But Alberta's Justice
Minister Alison Redford foresees the law casting a much broader dragnet.

"It is possible that they could use this with respect to people who
are drunk drivers. I think it's important that we look at crime as a
whole and we give the police the tools that they need to have to make
our community safer," Redford told reporters.

Yes, you read that right. Because driving under the influence is a
Criminal Code offense, drunk drivers also stand to lose big.

Expect to hear a few vocal complaints from everyday criminals and
chronic DWI offenders about life being unfair. Also expect the courts
to turn a largely deaf ear to those complaints.

B.C. and Ontario have had similar laws in place for several years, and
have seen snivellers and complainers take their bellyaching all the
way to the provincial top courts.

And lose.

There are a few points of concern; most notably that items can be
seized without a conviction. While the deliberate looseness of the
legislation gives police sharper teeth, it also heightens the
responsibility of the courts to appropriately weigh all applications
for auction. Of course, that is the job of the courts: provide a close
examination of the facts and then render a decision. Such oversight
should be sufficient to prevent abuse of the more pointed law.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few
months. Applied judiciously, police might finally be able to tell the
public that, just like in the Golden Age of comic books, crime doesn't
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