Rare rule used to seize alleged city crackhouse
For only the second time in Ottawa, a powerful piece of provincial legislation, which is being contested before the Supreme Court, has been used to take control of a piece of property this time an alleged crackhouse in Hintonburg.
There have been more than 250 complaints of everything from noise to prostitution and drug use at the house at 155 Spadina Ave. Although no charges have been laid, the Civil Remedies Act allows the Crown to freeze or seize property if it is likely to be engaged in unlawful activity.
Ottawa police say this is only the second time this act has been invoked in the city since it became law in 2001.
Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley, who was in Ottawa yesterday to announce the measure, said the act is a very powerful piece of legislation.
Not only does the act allow the Crown to seize property it believes is being used for criminal activity, but it prevents individuals from making money from alleged crimes.
It effectively allows the court to take the profit out of crime, Mr. Bentley said.
Act: Property worth $8.4M seized since 03
According to the attorney generals office, the act has been used to seize $8.4 million in property across the province since November 2003, including outlaw-motorcycle-gang clubhouses, crackhouses and marijuana grow operations. It has also been used to freeze more than $11.9 million in property.
JEAN LEVAC, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
January 15, 2009
However, the law is being challenged at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Robin Chatterjee, a former Carleton University student, was driving back to his parents house outside of Toronto in March 2003 when he was stopped by police because his car was missing a licence plate. Police searched the vehicle and discovered $29,020 in cash and various items that police say are commonly used in indoor marijuana grow-ops. Police did not have enough evidence to charge Mr. Chatterjee, but seized the money under the act.
Mr. Chatterjee challenged the constitutionality of the legislation at the Ontario Court of Appeal. After losing at the Ontario court, Mr. Chatterjee brought his case to the Supreme Court. The appeal was heard in November and a decision has not yet been reached.
Under the court order granted Jan. 9, the owner of 155 Spadina Ave., Kathleen Nora McConkey, is unable to list, sell, further lease, assign, transfer with or without a consideration, dispose of convey or further encumber, borrow against or otherwise use as security or issue notices under Power of Sale or otherwise deal with this real property preserved under this order.
When reached by telephone at her home in Cornwall, Ms. McConkey said none of the complaints have anything to do with her.
Im very ashamed and this is unnecessary, she said. The place has been in excellent condition for over a year.
Police have responded to more than 250 calls about the property since 1992, said Staff Sgt. Murdoch MacLeod, who served as the acting inspector on the investigation into the property.
The reasons varied from crimerelated to nuisance calls, he said. The community was outraged. They got to a breaking point.
Members of the community were relieved by the news.
Were just very pleased after a long struggle to see this action taking place, said Cheryl Parrott, cochair of the Hintonburg Community Associations security committee. This is a huge step.
Theresa Flaherty, who has lived down the road from 155 Spadina Ave. for five years, was thrilled when she told about the order.
Oh my God, what hasnt been going on there? she said. Weve had prostitution, weve had drug deals, weve had diplomatic plates come up the street, weve had taxicabs come and do pick-ups.
In the five years shes lived on Spadina Avenue with her husband and daughter, Ms. Flaherty and her neighbours have witnessed a long list of worrisome incidents at 155 Spadina Ave., including late-night shouting on the road and needles found in the laneway behind the houses on the east side of the street.
We have a lot of seniors on the street, a lot of kids on the street, she said. People have been afraid.
Appearing with Mr. Bentley at yesterdays press conference, MPPs Madeleine Meilleur and Yasir Naqvi thanked the police officers who worked on this case.
Its a positive sign today that were listening to the
community, Ms. Meilleur said.
Civil Remedies debate heats up
The province and police love the Civil Remedies Act because it allows them to combat crime by hitting criminals where they say it hurts most, in the pocketbook.
Defence lawyers argue the provincial law that was used to freeze ownership of an alleged crackhouse in Hintonburg this week is a draconian measure that flies in the face of common law and is designed to punish people who have never been convicted of or in some cases even charged with a criminal offence.
And legal experts suggest governments are likely going to use it more often and in broader contexts than ever before as authorities find new and creative ways to apply it.
But first, the powerful piece of provincial legislation, which lets the Crown freeze or seize property if it is likely to be engaged in criminal activity, must survive a Supreme Court challenge as to whether provinces have the constitutional power to seize the proceeds of crime.
Earlier this week, Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley announced that the alleged crackhouse on Spadina Avenue was the latest property the province has taken control of using the act.
The owner of the property, which police said has been the subject of more than 250 complaints, is now unable to sell, lease, transfer or do anything with the house.
Ottawa Citizen Januanry 16, 2009
Get the evidence 1
Its impossible not to sympathize with residents of Hintonburg who have had the misfortune of living near a certain house on Spadina Avenue. Over the years police have responded to more than 250 calls at the notorious address. Allegations of everything from drug-dealing and prostitution to late night shouting have made the house a blight.
This week the province stepped in and seized the property. The community is overjoyed, as youd expect. The quality of life in the neighbourhood will likely increase.
Yet despite the happy outcome, the process by which it came about is disturbing. Think about it: The Crown seized a property even though no charges had been laid against anyone. This is a dramatic exercising of state power.
The province invoked a law allowing it to seize property if the property is associated with criminal activity. But again: Although the home is an alleged crackhouse, no one has been charged with buying or selling crack there. The testimony of neighbours suggests that the place was causing lots of grief, but allowing the state simply to grab it raises a host of scary implications.
The constitutionality of the legislation is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court case involves a man from whom police seized $29,000, on the assumption that it was drug money even though there wasnt enough evidence to charge him.
Police and governments need tools to fight crime and ensure the personal security of citizens. But if the tools are at the same time too blunt and too powerful, were all in trouble.