B.C. Court of Appeal orders seizure of 3 Hells Angels clubhouses
Province's highest court rules motorcycle club must turn over properties in Nanaimo, Kelowna and Vancouver
British Columbia's highest court has ordered the seizure of three Hells Angels clubhouses in the province following a years-long legal battle with the outlaw motorcycle club.
On Wednesday, the B.C. Court of Appeal published its decision in the case between the province's Director of Civil Forfeiture and Angel Acres Recreation and Festival Property Ltd.
A panel of three judges overturned a 2020 B.C, Supreme Court ruling that allowed the Hells Angels to keep its properties in Nanaimo, Kelowna and East Vancouver. The justices on the appeals bench ruled the properties would likely be used for criminal activity in the future.
Justice Mary Newbury wrote the lower-court ruling was "tainted'' in several ways, including a failure to link Hells Angels' efforts to avoid criminal detection with the club's demonstrated "penchant for secrecy'' and "preoccupation with rats and snitches.''
She found the trial judge did not account for evidence showing Hells Angels members had "committed serious crimes'' in the past or that the clubhouses "provided a safe space'' to plan or commit crimes. The ruling says the inference is "inescapable'' that the properties would be used the same way in future.
The clubhouses are located at 805 Victoria Rd. in Nanaimo, 837 Ellis St. in Kelowna and 3598 E. Georgia St. in Vancouver.
The decision orders Hells Angels members with an interest in the three clubhouses to pay the costs of the appeal and requires the titles of the properties to be transferred to the province, with funds from any sales paid to the civil forfeiture account.
The B.C. Assessment website shows a total combined value of just over $3 million for the properties, described in the ruling as fenced and gated, with metal, outward-opening doors to prevent forced entry, extensive security systems and other measures to "prevent police from surreptitiously monitoring'' Hells Angels activities.
Greg DelBigio, the lawyer who represented those associated with the Vancouver and Kelowna clubhouses, told The Canadian Press he had no comment on the Court of Appeal ruling or on any possibility of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The forfeiture office moved to seize the Nanaimo clubhouse in 2007, followed by the Kelowna and Vancouver clubhouses in 2012.
In 2012, the Crown alleged the clubhouses in Kelowna and Vancouver's East End were linked to extortion, assaults and even murder.
In 2013, the bikers launched a counterclaim against the Crown challenging the seizure orders.
The late civil liberties lawyer Joseph Arvay, who died in 2020, represented the Hells Angels in the past and said that police haven't been able to prove that the Angels are a criminal organization. He said that too often, civil forfeiture was being used as a substitute for judicial process.
Arvay argued the seizures violated the club's Charter rights and the Angels won what had then been a 13-year legal fight. The court dismissed the province's claims and orders the contents of the Nanaimo clubhouse, which had been seized, to be returned.
The Appeal Court's 300-plus paragraph decision published Feb. 15 says many members and associates of the East End, Kelowna and Nanaimo chapters had in the past committed serious crimes.
Wednesday's ruling was a win for the province, though the decision does not include a deadline for when the properties must be turned over.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, the attorney general's office said the B.C. government would be introducing unexplained wealth order (UWO) legislation in the spring, which it said will potentially be a powerful tool for the Civil Forfeiture Office to "pursue ill-gotten assets tactically and more efficiently."
A spokesperson said the Director of Civil Forfeiture could not comment on specific cases related to the clubhouse seizures or matters that have been before the court.
"The procedure followed by the director to take possession of and sell forfeited property is dependant on the unique circumstances of each case," according to the statement.
Premier David Eby said the ruling "confirms the direction'' the province is taking on organized crime.
"I think this sends a strong message under our existing civil forfeiture regime to criminal organizations,'' Eby said in Victoria.
The Court of Appeals decision can be read in its entirety online.
With files from The Canadian Press