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Legislation to deter profit-driven crime, like bootlegging, comes into force in Nunavut

Nunavut's Unlawful Property Forfeiture Act has come into force. It's meant to deter profit-driven crime by taking away money or property obtained or used for crime.

The new director of forfeiture's job will be to take away the financial incentive to commit crimes

Rankin Inlet RCMP charged a 44-year-old man in January 2021 after seizing 24 bottles of alcohol as part of an ongoing investigation into allegation of bootlegging in the community . (RCMP)

Nunavut's Unlawful Property Forfeiture Act has come into effect.

The act is meant to deter profit-driven crime by taking away money or property obtained or used for crime.

It came into force with the hiring of a director of forfeiture, David Lawson, whose job it will be to take away the financial incentive to commit crimes that are harmful to others — like bootlegging or drug dealing.

The money made during those crimes or even the vehicle used could be taken away by the forfeiture office.

"In the criminal justice system, often property or vehicles that are used in illegal activity can't be seized or forfeited," Lawson said. But now, that's changed. 

"I can do that and that's where I fill in."

Lawson said people often complain "there's drug dealers out there that haven't worked a day," but are able to pay for snowmobiles and other vehicles with cash.

"A lot of people don't like that," Lawson said. "That's where we say crime doesn't pay. And that's where I'm going to go after them." 

When the criminal justice system does seize these items — the profits are collected by the federal government. But if the Government of Nunavut's forfeiture office makes the case and the property stays in territory, Lawson says he will use it for programing.

"There's victims in this," he said. "The victims are the young population, people who are hooked on drugs, who are addicted to drugs. Those are the victims and that's where I want to pump my money back into wellness programs."

Lawson says he is still setting up procedures so the office can start taking on cases. Most of them will come from the RCMP, and these cases will be prosecuted through the civil court system.

Justice Minister George Hickes announced the new act was taking effect at the Legislative Assembly Wednesday. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Justice Minister George Hickes made the announcement for the new act to come into force at the Legislative Assembly Wednesday.

"This act creates an important tool to address criminality in Nunavut, and I look forward to the positive impact the office will have under the leadership of its new director," Hickes said to the Speaker.

He added in an interview that the act is "a long time coming."

"When you look at other jurisdictions and some of their civil forfeiture legislation, it gives us an opportunity to make sure that crime doesn't pay in a couple of different ways," Hickes said. "It's just another avenue for law enforcement to take to deter that type of activity."

Based on interviews by Jacqueline McKay

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