If you commit a crime, you may be fined or imprisoned. But normally, the government must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and under very strict prosecutorial rules. But since the mid-1980s in the US, and more recently in Canada, governments have passed laws allowing the police to seize and keep your property without proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed a crime. (See the 12 August 2013 article by Sarah Stillman in in The New Yorker, "Taken"; and my article in the CTH, "Failure to Report Cash".) This is what happened to Jason Paquette.
Mr. Paquette had a criminal record spanning four years and including convictions for theft, possession of property obtained by crime, fraud and possession of illegal drugs. One September night at 11:30 in North Bay, he was quarrelling outside a bar with his girlfriend, when a police officer got involved. Mr. Paquette threatened the officer; the police arrested him, found the money and kept it.
Sections 3 and 8 of Ontario's Civil Remedies Act, 2001 demand that Ontario courts allow the Government to keep seized property "if the court finds that the property is proceeds of unlawful activity" or "is an instrument of unlawful activity." In Paquette's case, the Court said:
" There is no direct evidence that the money found on Paquette came from or was going to be used for unlawful activities. The Attorney General’s case is based entirely on circumstantial evidence. That evidence can be grouped as follows:
• the circumstances in which the money was found;
• Paquette’s criminal record;
• Paquette’s refusal to cooperate with the police regarding their investigation of the source of the money; and
• Paquette’s failure to adequately explain the source and purpose of the funds."
That evidence, in the judge's view, was enough to order that Paquette's money be forfeited.
Also to note: The judge is considering ordering Mr. Paquette to pay some of the Government's legal fees. So, if you try to defend yourself against a seizure, not only must you pay for your lawyer but you might also have to pay some of the Government's legal fees.
See Ontario v. $10,000.00 in Canadian Currency (In Rem), (2014 ONSC Ellies) and see the article in the Montreal Gazette online, "Ontario man can't get his $10K in suspected drug money back, judge rules"; also at Globalpost. See also the April 2014 Ontario decision: AG v. $4,067,685.10 (Canadian Currency), 2014 ONSC 2537 (Vallee)