... about public scrutiny in home seizure case
by Christopher di Armani
Crown Counsel James McKeachie is very annoyed with the Montague family for making public the letter he wrote to them where he spelled out his intention to take their family home using Ontario's Civil Remedies Act.
They posted his letter on the website about their legal challenge to Canada's Firearms Act, www.BruceMontague.ca.
McKeachie's letter, dated the day the Supreme Court of Canada announced they would not hear the Montagues' appeal, was posted on BruceMontague.ca in late September.
In 2005 McKeachie applied for and was granted a Preservation Order that placed a lien against the Montague family home and 160 acre property. This was to prevent them from selling their home or using the equity in their home to help finance their constitutional challenge of Canada's Firearms Act. That was the first step in a civil proceeding that McKeachie said he would proceed with "regardless of the outcome" of the Montagues' criminal and constitutional cases.
No doubt out of the kindness of his heart, McKeachie said he would allow the Montagues to live in their home until the two cases were finished, and he placed the civil forfeiture proceeding on hold. Now that the Supreme Court had refused to hear the Montagues' case, McKeachie was moving forward with his forfeiture plan immediately.
"That letter was written ages ago. The only thing he [McKeachie] was waiting for was the Supreme Court decision not to hear my case so he could fill in the right date," said Bruce Montague.
Bruce Montague is upset about this, and with good reason.
"They've won already. I'm in jail, my wife is alone, and they want to kick her out on the street and leave her homeless. It's vindictive," Montague said from the Thunder Bay prison where he is serving his 18-month sentence.
When notified that lawyer Doug Christie would be representing the Montagues in the civil proceeding, McKeachie sent Mr. Christie a letter that made his displeasure clear.
"The Minister has already received correspondence from a third party about the impending reopening of the case. The correspondence from me is now on the internet."
"Given that the only two people were notified, both of whom are your clients', one must conclude that your clients are making public correspondence meant to be confidential between two parties. This is not conducive to the free flow of communication between the parties."
McKeachie, and through him the Attorney General's office as a whole, was being forced to answer for his actions to the public. He doesn't like that at all. Why should the Ontario Attorney General's office or McKeachie personally be upset about public scrutiny of this case?
Openness and transparency should be the hallmark of government.
After all, the Attorney General and McKeachie himself claim to be operating in the best interests of the citizens of Ontario. They should, one would expect, be happy to have the bright light of public interest shining on them.
That does not appear to be the case.
Donna Montague wrote a compelling email to supporters of their legal challenge on October 1st, 2010. In that letter she expressed her outrage at the Attorney General's office.
"Proceeds of crime?! Our home was paid for with my family inheritance. Our home was hand-built from the ground up with the blood, sweat and tears of my entire family. We worked together as a family for over 6 years to build it to the point it is at now."
"Personally I see the Ontario Government’s action as vindictive! We have not profited in any way from our peaceful protest to federal firearms laws, and nobody has been threatened or hurt. I do not see any justice in taking my home and put me on the street. At our age taking our property and our home, utterly destroys our lives. This is more than excessive."
Tony Bernardo of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association agrees.
"What they're doing is heinous," Bernardo said in a telephone interview. "That's why I wrote my letter to the Attorney General on behalf of the Montague family and our 15,000 members here in Ontario."
Bernardo's letter of support can be found on diarmani.com.
In his letter, McKeachie also wrote:
"A great number of cases under the Civil Remedies Act are resolved through negotiations, if your clients wish to make an offer in order to avoid further legal expenses I will of course take that offer to my client."
Donna Montague was not impressed.
"At every stage of this process, whenever we've 'negotiated' with them, we've been railroaded," she said.
"The search warrants were illegal. They said that for our Constitutional challenge to go forward we had to drop our challenge of them. After they arrested Bruce, did the first search and were holding Bruce in jail, they threatened to bulldoze our home to the ground if he didn't tell them where the guns were. What's to negotiate with these people? They want what they want and they don't care what they have to do to get it!"
The Montagues instructed their lawyer, Doug Christie, to respond to the offer to negotiate.
"In regard to your request that my clients cease and desist from any communications with the public as to what is happening in court, I would inform you that my clients take a contrary view of your request. They are of the view that this court proceeding is a matter of public record and as such, they and indeed I know of no legal impediment to transparency in regard to it. In fact, if your actions and those of the Attorney General are in the interests of the public, the public should know about it," Mr. Christie wrote.
"My clients are, however, of the view that your claim is without merit, both as to any connection between the house and proceeds of crime and in regard to any instrument of crime, and therefore would make the following offer on a without prejudice basis: If you discontinue this claim within three days of receiving this letter, or undertake to do so, there will be no further publication of any information in regard to it."
On October 21, 2010 the Montague family's lawyer received a letter from James McKeachie expressing that he would indeed be moving forward with his planned seizure of all of the Montagues' assets, including their family home and property.
Not only is McKeachie seeking to keep all the property that was seized during the two searches of the Montague home and property, he is seeking to seize their home and land, and "Costs of this application", and "Such further and other order as this Honourable Court may deem just."
In other words, not only does he want to hang the Montagues, he wants them to pay all the costs of their hanging, including the building of the gallows, as well.
This appears to be standard procedure under these sorts of laws.
Under "Civil Forfeiture Successes" on the Ontario Government website, it states:
Ontario's CRIA office is recognized nationally and internationally for its precedent-setting work. Since November 2003, a total of $13.4 million in property has been forfeited to the Crown. The province also has approximately $36 million in property that is frozen pending the completion of civil forfeiture proceedings.
McKeachie's chapter of the book "Civil Forfeiture of Criminal Property" (Page 159) is blandly titled "Civil asset forfeiture in Canada", but the contents of that chapter are anything but bland. He makes what he is doing sound so.... normal... so acceptable. For example:
"Civil asset forfeiture is a legislated response to the societal problem that a large portion of unlawful activity is carried out purely for economic gain. Civil asset forfeiture is a property-based approach to a societal problem; there is no punishment or stigmatization of people, only the removal of property." (*1)
What is so inherently evil about this approach is that it completely sidesteps our judicial system and our right to be presumed innocent.
You never have to be arrested for a crime for the government to take your property.
You never have to be charged with a crime for the government to take your property.
You never have to be convicted of a crime for the government to take your property.
No arrest. No charges. No trial. No conviction.
Just a simple and effective circumvention of the principles of fundamental justice that are supposed to be accorded to every man, woman and child in Canada.
And what happens to all the money and property seized?
Well, of the $13.4 million seized in Ontario since 2003, only $1.2 million has been turned over as compensation to "victims of unlawful activity", whatever that phrase means.
Almost half of it, $5.7 million has been handed back to law enforcement agencies in the form of grants.
Five times as much money is given back to the very law enforcement agencies that enforce civil forfeiture as is given to "victims of unlawful activity". Does that sound like there is room for misuse of the law? That there is the possibility of personal interest at stake when the decisions are made about whether or not to steal someone's property without a trial?
Currently there is a large and growing scandal developing in Britain over this very issue. A story on AllVoices.com revealed the following, under a photograph of a protester holding a sign that says "Stop Police Corruption":
"Today James Brokenshire Home Office Minister announced that half the money confiscated through the Proceeds of Crime Act went back to the very organisations responsible for prosecuting Defendants."
When the agencies responsible for enforcing the law directly benefit from the money and property they seize, it can easily lead to corrupt enforcement of the law.
"The Home Office received a total of £150 million of criminal assets in 2009-10 after receivers' fees had been deducted. Under the current Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme half of all assets recovered are returned to law enforcement agencies involved in the asset recovery process, including the police, Crown Prosecution Service and HM Courts Service. In 2009-10, £75 million was returned to front line agencies."
A case in point from the AllVoices.com article:
Recently a lady lost her life saving of £11,000 because she unwittingly purchased products for her business for £250 that were stolen by a supplier. The supplier of the stolen goods, being on benefits, (Welfare) was fined £1.
How does it possibly serve justice to take the life savings of someone who unknowingly purchased stolen goods, but fine the person who committed the crime the equivalent of $2?
In the case of the Montague civil forfeiture case, it's interesting to note that McKeachie's annual salary is listed at $176,561 according to the Ontario Government's Public Sector Salary Disclosure page.
That's more than the Montagues' family home and 160-acre property (their entire life savings) are worth.
If you're as horrified by the Ontario government's action against the Montague family as I am, please write the the Honourable Chris Bentley, Attorney General of Ontario, and express your outrage at the actions of his office, specifically that of James McKeachie. You can contact Mr. Bentley here:
Ministry of the Attorney General
720 Bay Street, 11th Floor
Telephone toll free: 1-800-518-7901
Telephone Toronto: 416-326-2220
If you can spare it, the Montague family can really use your financial support! The government is attempting to steal everything they own. Please help them to save their family home from the Ontario government's confiscation attempt!
Donate Online: http://www.brucemontague.ca/html/0006.html#donate
DISCLAIMER: BruceMontague.ca is maintained by friends and
supporters of Bruce Montague.
It is NOT an official mouth-piece for Bruce
Montague's legal defense.