RCMP in the Northwest Territories often publicly report about seizing cash and other items during criminal investigations. What happens to that money after the case is closed?
Police can seize cash and other assets including bank accounts, lottery tickets, life insurance policies, jewelry, furniture, electronics, and even livestock when investigating violations of Canada’s Criminal Code, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act.
That property is then managed by the federal government’s Seized Property Management Directorate until legal proceedings are complete.
Judges have the power to rule whether seized property is returned to its owner or forfeited to the Canadian government.
In the latter case, under property sharing regulations, the federal government is required to share the proceeds with relevant provincial or territorial governments. That includes seized cash or profits made from seized property that is sold by auction.
In the NWT, communities and organizations can submit project proposals to the territorial Department of Justice’s community justice and policing division to access these funds. According to the department, proposals are evaluated based on the capacity of the organization, purpose of or need for the project, crime prevention objectives, and clientele.
A spokesperson for the department said in 2020-2021, the NWT government received $34,801.52 in dividends from seized property.
Accused allowed to use seized cash to pay lawyer
In a recent case, the NWT Supreme Court allowed a man facing trial for possessing the proceeds of crime to use some of the $62,960 in cash police had seized from his hotel room in Inuvik to pay his legal fees. Ali Omar told the court in November 2021 that he had trouble securing employment and was still paying off the $5,000 he said it cost to fly himself and his lawyer from Edmonton to Inuvik and stay there.
NWT Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau said at the time that the request was so rare she was not aware of anyone else having ever made a similar application in the territory.
Ruling in Omar’s favour, Charbonneau said while laws related to the proceeds of crime aim to ensure “crime does not pay,” making sure Omar had access to legal representation and upholding his right to the presumption of innocence were paramount. She noted other Canadian courts have also ruled in favour of accused people in similar cases.
How much of the seized cash Omar was ultimately able to use has not been publicly disclosed, although his initial application cited legal costs totalling $39,500.
There was a discrepancy in the reported amount of money that had been confiscated from Omar’s hotel room.
RCMP initially said in March 2019 that the cash totalled around $69,000. When Omar appeared in court in November 2021, however, the court heard the amount was $66,800. Then, when Omar was convicted of possessing property obtained by crime following trial in February, the court said $62,960 had been seized.
Sergeant Bruce McGregor, speaking on behalf of NWT RCMP, told Cabin Radio the initial sum of $69,000 was an estimate made by police for the purposes of a news release, while the total of $66,800 was the result of a count by hand in which errors were made. McGregor said the final sum of $62,960 was determined using a mechanical bill counter in Yellowknife.
A representative of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada confirmed the total of $62,960 was correct.