David Eby, premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia, announced an amendment to the 2013 Community Safety Act Tuesday to expand the province’s authority to seize assets amassed by suspected criminals. Under the amendment, unexplained wealth orders (UWO) would target property, vehicles and other luxury goods. The expanded authority would no longer require a criminal charge or conviction. Asset seizure could proceed as a civil procedure as long as the property or good was more likely than not the product of money laundering. According to Eby, the amendment’s goal is to remove “the profit incentive for organized crime.”
The amendment is the result of a commission established in 2019 to investigate money laundering in British Columbia. The nearly 1,800-page report released in June details the numerous ways money laundering affects the province. The report highlights the high vulnerability of British Columbia’s real estate market and ease of purchasing luxury goods in cash without appropriate documentation. Furthermore, the report recommends changes to the professional conduct codes of attorneys and accountants – two groups with members suspected of participating in money laundering activities.
However, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has staunchly opposed the amendment and 2013 Community Safety Act. BCCLA has raised several concerns including the impacts on marginalized groups and conflicts with existing laws. BCCLA noted that the Residential Tenancy Act already has procedures in place to handle crime-associated property seizure. The group also worries the lack of previously required criminal charges or conviction may lower the bar for enforcement agencies, and mere suspicion may lead to discrimination against minority communities.