Property forfeiture: Rare rule used to seize alleged city crackhouse

By Editorial
Ottawa Citizen
Jan 16, 2009

Get the evidence 1

It’s 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 you’d 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 wasn’t 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, we’re all in trouble.



Rare rule used to seize alleged city crackhouse
Act seeking to take ‘profit out of crime’ being challenged in Supreme Court

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 general’s 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