A judge issued a ruling today ordering the Crown to repay $86,201.62 in legal costs to a senior citizen whose Calgary condo was wrongly targeted by authorities using Alberta’s civil forfeiture legislation.
Lawyers for Patricia Thomson, 74, were in court last month arguing that the Crown should have to pick up the tab for the money she spent fighting in court to hold on to her property. Alberta Justice obtained a restraining order against Thomson’s $300,000 condo last year, alleging it was used by her son and other suspects implicated in a fraud scheme.
In a ruling last February, Queen’s Bench Justice Alan Macleod quashed the restraining order following a charter challenge from Thomson’s lawyers, saying it amounted to a “fishing expedition” for evidence against the fraud suspects that violated Thomson’s rights.
The Victims Compensation and Restitution Payment Act is intended to target organized crime by giving the Crown the authority to permanently seize property used in the commission of crime, or bought with money earned through criminal activity. That usually means things like houses used as marijuana grow operations, flashy cars bought by drug dealers or legitimate businesses bought by gangsters to launder money.
In Thomson’s case, authorities alleged the condo was used in a fraud scheme involving her son because her address was listed on banking and corporate registry documents. It turns out that was the only way Thomson’s property was involved: as an address listed on a form, without her knowledge — hence Macleod’s “fishing expedition” comment.
Speaking today with one of Thomson’s lawyers, Michael Bates, he said he hopes the Crown will think twice before attempting such a broad interpretation of what the act defines as an “instrument of crime” or “proceeds of crime.”
“I hope it’s going to cause the minister to be far more careful to push the limits of this legislation,” he said.