(The original emailed release with contact information is available here).
Hailing it as “a huge victory against the abuse of civil forfeiture laws in Canada,” the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) announced today the Ontario government has agreed to drop its attempt to seize rental properties belonging to Maggie and Terry Reilly, individuals who have never been accused of any wrongdoing. Under a court order ending the case against the Reillys, the Ontario government must immediately return the cash from the sale of the properties to the Reillys.
It’s a bittersweet end to a decade-long legal battle to secure justice for the Reillys, whose case the CCF took up in 2016. While the province has agreed to return a substantial amount of money to the Reillys, the psychological and emotional toll on the couple has been steep. Nevertheless, the Reillys are relieved and thrilled with the result.
“Without the assistance of the Canadian Constitution Foundation,” said Maggie Reilly, “we could not have continued to fight to get this resolution. It’s because of the CCF’s work and our lawyers, Shawna Fattal and Ben Grant, that we will finally be able to move on with our lives.”
The Reillys owned several rental properties in their home town of Orillia, Ontario, two of which they had reserved as low-income rental properties. Many of the tenants in these properties struggled with addiction and mental health issues living broken lives. For some, the Reillys offered them their first home after being released from prison while others paid their rent with assistance from government housing programs.
The Reillys didn’t have to take on the challenges associated with renting to these tenants, including uncertain rent payments and disruptive and occasionally illegal activity, but they chose to offer a helping hand as part of their longstanding commitments to alleviating poverty and homelessness. Terry Reilly served on the City of Orillia Homeless Committee, while Maggie’s father, an Anglican priest at a downtown Toronto church, had run a youth shelter.
In 2008, a branch of the Ontario government called the Director of Asset Management took control of both entire properties, alleging that tenants in some of the rental units had been observed selling drugs.
The Ontario government used its civil forfeiture legislation to strip the Reillys of their title on the grounds that some of the tenants’ rents may have been paid, in part, with money derived from illegal activity. There was no actual evidence that this was true and no allegation that the Reillys themselves had been involved in any illegal activity.
That is how the matter stood in 2016 when the CCF got involved. Since then, we fought to have the Reillys properties returned and, when the province sold them under a court order, to have the Reillys fairly compensated for the baseless seizure.
“We’re extremely pleased with this result,” said CCF lawyer, Derek From, “This is a win for the Reillys, it’s a win for property rights, it’s a win for common sense.”
Nevertheless, possibility of future civil forfeiture abuse remains.
“Ontario’s legislation still permits the province to seize property from individuals who are not accused, let alone convicted, of any illegal activity,” said From, “The CCF will continue to stand up for the rights of innocent Canadians facing abusive civil forfeiture actions when they have done nothing wrong.”
The Reillys’ lawyer, Shawna Fattal, said:
“The Attorney General of Ontario has finally dismissed their claims against my clients and I couldn’t be happier for them. Although the Reillys will never truly be compensated for the nearly 10 years of legal uncertainty, stress and significant financial cost that came from this civil forfeiture action, at least it is finally over and they feel vindicated with the result. Our hope is that due to the perseverance and courage of innocent property owners like the Reillys, the gross abuses of Ontario’s civil forfeiture regime will be brought to light. The Reillys owe a huge debt of gratitude to the CCF as their support has been integral to our success in this case.”
As the CCF highlighted in a 2016 report, Canada’s provincial civil forfeiture laws were originally intended to deter crime and provide financial compensation to the victims of crime. Today however, in many cases these laws have become a supplement or alternative to the criminal law, which can threaten the rights of Canadians.
In addition to counsel Shawna Fattal and Ben Grant, the CCF would like to thank David Steinberg, Karen Selick, Craig Bottomley, Brian Shiller and Marni Soupcoff, who also worked on the Reillys’ case over the years.
To download the CCF recent report on Canada’s civil forfeiture laws visit: https://theccf.ca/civilforfeiture/
The Canadian Constitution Foundation (“Freedom’s Defence Team”) is a registered charity, independent and non-partisan, whose mission is to defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through education, communication and litigation.
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