PEI

P.E.I. will consider Charlottetown council request for civil forfeiture law

P.E.I.'s attorney general says his department will consider a request by Charlottetown council to pass a law that would allow police to seize property investigators believe has been involved in a crime or acquired by committing an illegal act.

Law would give police more powers to seize property

The proposed new law would give police the right to seize property suspected of being involved in a crime.

P.E.I.'s attorney general says his department will consider a request by Charlottetown council to pass a law that would allow police to seize property investigators believe has been involved in a crime or acquired by committing an illegal act.

Council voted Monday in favour of asking the province to enact a civil forfeiture law.

Under the law, no conviction would be required to authorize the police seizure of the property in question.

P.E.I. is one of only two provinces in Canada without a civil forfeiture law. Newfoundland and Labrador is the other.

Similar laws have been controversial in other provinces, with some facing legal challenges. 

Coun. Mitchell Tweel tabled the motion, saying the 'drug houses' in the city need to get cleaned up. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Coun. Mitchell Tweel tabled the motion, saying he is sick of the number of "drug houses" in the city. 

"It's plaguing the neighbourhoods. It's a hazard, it's unsafe, it's dangerous," he said.

"The status quo was not working. People want to feel safe in their community, young families want to live in the city, particularly in the heart of the city, and they want to live in a very safe environment."

Police onside, but cautious 

The Charlottetown Police Service is encouraged by the possibility of new legislation.

"It certainly helps in our efforts to protect our communities and really truly it boils down to public safety," said Deputy Chief Brad MacConnell.

"This type of legislation is to support communities that are affected by houses that are occupied by people that are compromising public safety. So anything that gives us an extra tool to combat those type of activities, we're in support of."

Brad MacConnell, deputy chief of Charlottetown police, welcomed the motion from council. (Natalia Goodwn/CBC)

MacConnell said the challenge for police is that after a crime has been prosecuted, the same people can often return to a drug house, for example, and continue with illegal activities. 

He did have some concerns with the proposed law given the current housing crisis in the city. 

"Any city that has vacancy rates as low as ours has to be cautious of displacing people," he said.

"That's one of the things that I want to make sure that we're in front of … that appropriate measures are put in place to make sure that, you know, we're not in a place where we're putting people with no alternatives to go regardless of, of what they're accused of."

Concerns from constitutional rights advocate  

While most Canadian provinces do have civil forfeiture laws in place, those laws have been controversial, and have even been taken to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Derek From is a lawyer with the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a legal charity based in Calgary which focuses on constitutional rights. He said civil forfeiture "has the potential to overturn some of the most fundamental rights that Canadians have." 

It's kind of the hammer. It's not a scalpel that goes after the problems that communities are dealing with.— Derek From, Canadian Constitution Foundation

He said he is concerned about property rights in particular. 

From said he sympathizes with municipalities that have concerns about drugs or other crime, but said civil forfeiture is not the right approach. 

"It's kind of the hammer. It's not a scalpel that goes after the problems that communities are dealing with. It's just coming in and smashing a bunch of things."

From said such laws "effectively switches the onus" onto individuals to prove they should be able to keep their property, rather than on law enforcement agencies to prove it was linked to crime. 

Province to weigh options

P.E.I.'s Attorney General Bloyce Thompson said he sees the potential benefits of civil forfeiture laws, but also recognizes concerns about individual rights.

"It really pushes the line, the boundaries, and we have to, we'll have to look at that."

P.E.I. Attorney General Bloyce Thompson says he does see potential value in developing a civil forfeiture law, but has to look into it more. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Thompson said his department will review council's request, and will look at what has been done in other jurisdictions, as well as consult with police chiefs across the Island before deciding whether to put legislation in place. 

"We have to look into that to see if it's something that would work in this province," he said.

"Public safety is the most important thing for us and we want to make sure it addresses that."

More P.E.I. news 

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