Thursday, November 27, 2008

Alberta Bill 50 - A License To Harass?

This week, Alberta passed Bill 50 which gives the crown the power to seize and sell assets used in the commission of crime.

On the surface, this sounds fairly reasonable - the government has an agreed upon right to establish the penalties that are associated with crime in general - from fines to incarceration.

However, there are aspects of Bill 50 that are quite troublesome. First of all, the bill does not specify any limits to its application. The powers that the bill asserts can be invoked for just about any offense. The example that has been in the media is the seizure of a car used in transporting drugs. Sure that sounds good, but is this appropriate in other situations? For example, if you are charged with "copyright piracy" under the proposed DMCA-clone the HarperCon$ tried to introduce twice last year, should you find your house forfeit because it was where you copied a handful of MP3's?

More troubling is this set of clauses in S 19.4:
(3) With respect to an application for a restraint order,
(a) it is not necessary for the Minister to establish that any
person has been charged with, found guilty of or
convicted of or otherwise held responsible for any illegal
act in relation to any matter related to the property in
respect of which the application is made, and
(b) the Court may grant a restraint order notwithstanding
that a person has not been charged with, found guilty of
or convicted of or otherwise held responsible for any
officer or a civil enforcement agency;
(c) providing for matters that are ancillary to any direction
given under clause (a) or (b).

In essence, all that the government is obliged to do is assert that property has been used in a "crime", and presto, you could find yourself facing seizure. While there are time limits on the restraining orders involved, it's not hard to see that there is a real risk that an overzealous crown attorney or law enforcement officer could use this mechanism as a tool to harass someone over some slight or another.

Bill 50 strikes me as a piece of legislation that while well intentioned, is poorly thought out - and subject to significant abuse, with few constraints on the government bodies involved.

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