Hells Angels as constitutional defenders - Macleans.ca

Hells Angels as constitutional defenders

‘Our fight will be for all British Columbians,’ chapter president says


Don Denton / CP

When it comes to championing constitutional rights, the Hells Angels don’t generally come to mind. But the notorious biker club is embracing that cause through a challenge it launched last week against British Columbia’s Civil Forfeiture Act in the B.C. Supreme Court. The suit follows the seizure of three of the group’s clubhouses, alleged sites of drug trafficking, extortion and murder, according to the province.

Adopted in 2005, civil forfeiture allows the province to go after any assets it believes are linked to criminal activity, such as a marijuana grow-operation or cash earned by drug trafficking. The province, which has seized $40 million in forfeitures to date, claims the law deters crime. But civil rights advocates, and now the Hells Angels, say it’s a cash grab, and a means of bypassing due process. “It’s really an end run around checks and balances in the criminal process,” says Michael Vonn, policy director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The Angels, the group’s lawyer argues, is not a proven criminal organization, therefore, forfeiture of its properties in east Vancouver, Kelowna and Nanaimo is a violation of its Charter rights. It’s a battle others in similar situations can’t afford to take on, says Vonn, noting the minimum cost to defend a civil claim is tens of thousands of dollars. Because of this, she says, many on the receiving end of forfeiture claims end up settling. The Civil Liberties Association also questions whether penalties administered through forfeiture fit the corresponding crimes. While originally meant as a tool to target organized crime, regular folk have had their homes liquidated for housing a handful of marijuana plants, or their cars seized for speeding, says Vonn.

And so now, we have the bizarre spectacle of the well-funded Hells Angels as constitutional defenders. “Most people seem to just cave when faced with these forfeiture lawsuits. It is just too expensive and stressful to fight back when faced with the resources of the state,” Rick Ciarniello, president of the Vancouver Hells Angels chapter told media. “We aren’t going to do that, and our fight will be for all British Columbians.”


Hells Angels as constitutional defenders

  1. Amazing that the Hell’s Angels have to stand up for due process in this country…..what idiot in govt thought of this??

    • You may well not like the process, but my understanding is that BC has a process, in that it both the government & plaintiff get their day in court. (It is true that they streamlined the process for less than $75k so that it only goes to court if the plaintiff contests it.)

      I am no lawyer, but I imagine that the idea of the burden of proof is dropped to that for a civil (rather than a criminal) case. Frankly, I love the idea of the Angels paying a little more to help out.

      In my view, it is a little like using traffic cameras for speeding & light running. If they are set up to catch only the most egregious criminals then they are a valuable tool. If you set the barrier too low, they become a cash grab.

      • The last time our govts confiscated property wholesale like this and without due process it was WWII, and the previous owners were sent to internment camps.

        • And this is the EXACT SAME THING! Oh, wait a minute. It’s not at all the same thing. Only you could equate taking on organized crime with the internment of the Japanese.

          • Mussolini – the Italian fascist dictator – was very effective in his war against organized crime: any suspected mafioso was jailed and no real evidence was required. The problem with this method is that many innocent citizens were also unjustly accused, jailed and tortured. Fortunately for them, American G.I’s liberated them when they invaded Sicily in WWII… but they also freed the real mafiosi, believing they were all political prisoners (we know what happened next).

            I’m all for being tough on organized crime… we should “take them on”, as you say, but not to the point where our constitution and democracy are threatened. It’s tempting to use any means necessary to go after mobsters, criminal motorcycle clubs and gangs but if we go down that path and set these precedents then one day, if we fall on hard times (economic or war), honest citizens may become victims of an abusive justice system if they are deemed troublemakers or agitators (like protesters, activists, journalists, whistle blowers… etc)… laws that target one group one day… may apply to everybody the next day.

          • Everything in moderation I say. The first time they seize an innocent victim’s property without redress, I’ll stand up. In the meantime, we need to open up as many fronts against these creeps as possible.

          • Everything in moderation but you want to wait until an innocent victims assets are seized before “standing up.” You have a keen legal mind, don’t let it go to waste.

          • From such an average, middling little man as yourself, that is rich. By the way, I would point out that Macleans is scrubbing some of your comments, not mine. I’m guessing it’s because of the trollish quality of most of your posts, but it’s only a guess. Emily believes I have some magical power to make comments disappear. This will no doubt fuel her delusions.

          • I hadn’t noticed and don’t really care. I guess I’m too “middling” LOL.

          • you know another way to take on organized crime would be to legalize this certain plant they sell which criminalization has made worth more than gold…

          • Agreed, but it would be naive to think they would just give up crime and go to med school. They will put their criminal “talents”, if you can call them that, toward some other activity, which may be more or less harmful. I support legalization from an economic & tax revenue standpoint. But I don’t believe we’d see much decrease in crime.

    • Amazing that you don’t realize that this has nothing to do with the HA standing up for due process, and everything to do with a criminal organization trying to hide behind the Charter.

  2. This comment was deleted.

    • What a stupid thing to say

      • But what you said is so much smarter :)

        • Well.. at least more accurate.

          • What do you think about our spy agency involved in espionage on behalf of Canadian mining and oil companies against other Government agencies? No one holds a candle to their criminal conduct. Is that something you deem lawful?

          • So intercepting some signals exceeds murder and extortion as a crime in your eyes?

          • This comment was deleted.

          • Yet you believe lawyers representing the HA. Sounds like you stand to lose if OC groups start having their property confiscated. What a shame.

          • I don’t have a clue what you are talking about and pretty sure you don’t have a clue either. What is an OC group ?

          • Organized crime group. The O is for ‘organized’, and…. here’s the hard part, the C is for ‘crime’.

          • Oh, you mean Law Enforcement. Yes, Organized Crime.

          • That you think corporate espionage is anywhere near extortion, forced prostitution, and murder says more about you than it does our government.

          • That you think extortion and murder doesn’t come with corporate espionage tells us everything we need to know about you.

          • The police set their own cruisers on fire did they? Well no wonder you hate them so much.

            You know, I’ve never seen a cop-hater who wasn’t A) A criminal, or B), a clued out activist. I’m guessing you are at least the latter.

          • I have never said that I hate them. That is your word. I have said that I don’t trust them and they habitually break the law which makes them criminals. There is a clear distinction. And your diagnosis of me is absurd. Why do you personalize most of your posts and attack others just because you disagree with them?
            Also, What is a clued out activist? What does that mean ? Is someone who doesn’t want someone else pumping untold thousands of chemicals into their water table and poisoning the water on their land a “clued out activist” ?
            Are you being paid to troll everyone on this thread?
            The rule of law is the rule of law. The idea that law enforcement can just arbitrarily seize all assets prior to proving wrongdoing first is unlawful itself. Just because you love the idea of a police state doesn’t mean the rest of us do.

          • I don’t personalize anything, I just respond in kind. Take a look at your responses, at least the ones that aren’t deleted. Do you really expect to carry on a civil disucussion with smarmy, saracastic responses like this one? You have a keen legal mind, don’t let it go to waste. I wouldn’t.

            Now, I will respond civilly to your final point:

            The idea that law enforcement can just arbitrarily seize all assets prior to proving wrongdoing first is unlawful itself.

            Civil forfeiture laws require that the assets belong to a “proven criminal organization” before seizing assets. Which means they rely on much precedent, a very established principle (in fact a fundamental pillar) of the common law. Are you suggesting there remains any doubt that the Hells Angles are a criminal organization? That the courts must do more to prove this? There hasn’t been a shred of doubt about that in any thinking person in more than 25 years.

          • I am well aware of civil forfeiture laws. Thankfully they aren’t nearly as sweeping in Canada as they are in the US. Civil Forfeiture laws are fertile grounds for misuse and abuse. You cited the “checks and balances” that exist within the framework of the legal system, in which charter arguments provide one mechanism but then you rail at the idea of them hiding behind the charter. You need to make up your mind. Have the Hells Angels been designated as a Criminal Organization in British Columbia yet? Just because they give the appearance to you of being a criminal organization doesn’t make it so. Two of the three accused who were the only ones convicted in 08 weren’t Hells Angels as far as I know. You can project all you want but the facts are facts. One more thing, HSBC was convicted of laundering 80 billion in drug and cartel money last year. Why weren’t they designated a criminal organization and subject to civil forfeiture laws like everyone else who is involved in such widespread criminal conduct? Riddle me that? Because they pay protection money to the Granddaddy of organized crime.. That’s why.

          • There’s a body of case law that wouldn’t fit into a fleet of 18 wheelers regarding the criminal activities of the HA. I don’t judge them based on appearances, but on an established pattern of criminal behaviour and convictions going back 40 years.

            As for HSBC, yes they are complicit in criminal activities, but also in legitimate activities. Odd that on one hand, you worry a law is being applied too broadly, then on the other argue that it should be applied to every corporation where criminal activities took place.

            For organizations like the HA, their criminal activities define their existence. They may own legal enterprises, but their gang exists for no other purpose than crime. Not so for major corporations.

          • Your explanation is completely irrelevant. Although statutes differ in the US vs Canada and I know we are talking about Canada here but proceeds of crime are proceeds of crime. If you accumulate assets or cash by engaging in criminal behavior those assets and cash are subject to seizure. It is common knowledge that the Hells Angels own many, many respectable, legal businesses. Whether you like it or not the Hells Angels have a business model that is actually no different than the Government. They conduct business and they charge taxes to provide protection just like you pay the government a piece of what you earn so they won’t throw you in jail. The Government controls the booze, tobacco and prescription drug markets threatening state violence by way of their law enforcement thugs if anyone tries to compete, HA’s control other mind altering substance markets and also don’t like competition. And so on and so on. Exact same business model. In using the HSBC example I merely wanted to draw attention to the hypocrisy of it all and why they aren’t subject to the same rules because they pay protection money to the kingpins of organized crime.

          • In short what you are saying is that the idea of a currency in itself was founded to create and offer freedoms to those that were willing to “work the land” so to speak.

            Through out the evolution of these currencies regardless of the geographical location or name to the currency, eventually intelligent people came to find ways to manipulate (bribe or piece off) in order to get their “people” ahead. Thus the need grew for baby sitters and court room appearances to maintain some sort of order or fairness to all that decide to play in the monopoly game….

            Whats happening here is not a matter of who makes more money or a cash grab, it would seem this is more about the methods, tactics, manipulation, and over all ethics to which certain groups of people conduct “business” in an effort to gain control in any “Market”.

            Simply said when you start killing people for a digital currency, when you begin to put the value of a piece of paper over that of any human life, then you deserve to lose everything you have.

          • As long as all the participants comply with the rules of taxation and market domination then no violence ensues. Don’t pay your tax to the Government or try to compete with them and they send their enforcers to throw you in jail. Do the same to the HA’s and they send their enforcers to …. well they don’t have taxpayers to pay for jails so they are at a disadvantage.

  3. The Hell’s Angels have certainly been found to be a criminal organization in the past (and that finding is almost certainly correct). It’s very difficult to show that a group exists for no purpose except to commit crimes, but it’s been shown of the HA more than once.

    • The HA have not been proven to be a criminal organization in BC, which is where this action is occurring. As such, I agree with the BC CLA, civil forfeiture is an end-run around the checks and balances in the criminal process.

      Prove the HA is a criminal organization (which really shouldn’t be that hard, no?) and take the appropriate measures, or go home.

      • They’ve been found under the Criminal Code, which should at the very least be persuasive if not a prima facie indication of a criminal organization.

        In terms of “not that hard, no” the evidence is there but collecting it was lengthy and involved dangerous undercover work and tons of data gathered over time. I’m absolutely a stickler for process but in cases like this, where a group has been found to be a criminal organization under federal legislation with a criminal standard, it should be incumbent on the organization to try to prove its not.

        • This is the kind of crap that goes on with civil forfeiture:

          Civil forfeiture is ripe for misuse, and experience in BC bears this out.
          Civil forfeiture is bad because:

          – It turns the prosecution of justice into a profit centre, thus creating an incentive to have revenue raising as the goal, rather than justice.
          – It can result in penalties disproportionate to the offence.
          – Two different people (or organizations) with *exactly* the same offences can have vastly different outcomes (penalties) due to the property involved in each case.

          • Those are fine arguments to address shortcomings in a system, but I still have no problem using earlier criminal cases, decided at that standard, to be used as a prima facie case when determining if an organization is criminal. As for disproportionate penalties, the entire raison d’etre for a criminal organization is to further crime, if there were other purposes it wouldn’t be a c.o. in the first place. And although fines can certainly be a criminal penalty, usually when criminal organizations are involved we’re already talking about serious matters that go beyond financial restitution (unless there are criminal organizations that exist for mischief and jaywalking, for instance). It’s really a non-starter because they can only take the organization’s property, and if the organization was criminal the property was there essentially to further crime.

          • Also worth noting none of the incidents mentioned in the articles you link to (which are in places a bit alarmist) involve criminal organizations. In fact, the article warns about opportunities for misuse because the law is going BEYOND being used to target criminal organizations.

          • Civil forfeiture laws serve the same purpose as wrongful death suits in the US. They offer a form of “double jeopardy” which otherwise is Constitutionally prohibited.

            Civil forfeiture laws are, without question, designed to do an end run around Charter protections. They have no other purpose. That doesn’t invalidate them. The legal system is full of checks and balances. If interpretation of the Charter has become so broad and so absolute that criminal prosecutions become prohibitively difficult or expensive, then other legal counter-balances will need to be found. This is one of them.

            The beauty of civil trials is that judgments are not subject to reasonable doubt. Rather, judgments are rendered on the basis of a preponderance of evidence. What would be an easy acquittal in a criminal trial can be very difficult to defend in a civil trial.

          • A civil suit doesn’t constitute double jeopardy – perhaps this is so in the US but not in Canada. Being tried twice for the same offence CRIMINALLY is not allowed, but people affected are perfectly allowed to bring non-criminal actions.

          • That’s true, it doesn’t actually constitute double jeopardy, in either Canada or the US. Double jeopardy is a fundamental protection against malicious prosecution in any country with a foundation of English common law. What civil forfeiture does is allow, in certain circumstances, that second kick at the can, where futher criminal action would constitute double jeopardy.

  4. I’m waiting for Justin Trudeau to stand up and defend the Hell’s Angels. Can’t wait for Canadians to start realizing that the Liberals would legalize weed, give free heroin to addicts, and how defend the Hell’s Angel’s from having their criminal proceeds confiscated by the government.

    • Why wait? Why not just make something up and lie through your teeth? Your a Harper supporter, after all.

    • The real supporters of organized crime are the Conservatives who continue to hand a monopoly to the HA and other organized crime outfits.

    • Aren’t you forgetting child pornographers and terrorists?

    • The Liberals (provincial) are the ones taking the Angel’s stuff.

  5. I would rather live next door to the Angels than a cop or politician. There would be less crime.

    • I guarantee you would not want that.

  6. Gee, I wonder what a 1%er is?

  7. Oh puhleeze, these drug trafficking murderous thugs are only looking out for their own best interests, how does a legitimate organization come up with 4 million dollars in cash for a cocaine buy that turned out to be a reverse sting. They are not only murderous thugs they are also stupid.

  8. Like the Hells Angels or not, they do have a valid constitutional right to challenge the B.C. Civil forfeiture Act laws. This Hells Angels challenge, could have significant / important positive consequences for the “average Joe”. Just because your a perceived criminal element, should not allow the police to act in a criminal way also.

    • Civil forfeiture laws are civil actions. They do not allow police to act criminal.

  9. Glad to see their going to fight the good fight, hopefully they win and the BS forfeiture laws are ended

    • Idiot. I say that not because of your comment – which is idiotic – but because of your handle. Anyone who supports the HA has earned the title of idiot. (In case anyone doesn’t know what his handle means, it means ‘support 81’, 81 representing the 8th and 1st letters in the alphabet – ‘HA’. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but at least one uninformed commenter had no idea OC stood for Organized Crime, so you never know.)

  10. Not a club. it’s a gang.

  11. The legal community and non legal community assume that having money and
    legal counsel makes your civil forfeiture fight fair and balanced; this
    is absolute nonsense. After a $500k inheritance and paying over $50k
    in defense and achieving a stay on Ballot Measure 3 in Oregon, and
    meeting with a new attorney who called into the judge two days before
    trial after waiting 6 months and too many hearings beforehand to count
    due to the civil forfeiture action, I was pled involuntary, kept over 7
    hours and signed a blank document my existing lawyers (whom knew I was
    going to fire them due to the new attorney calling in and they admitted
    the DA alerted them); so because I chose to fight and did not accept
    their initial plea bargain to drop the charges if I gave them animals I
    owned for ten years…because I could win, I was denied my right to
    trial…I lost a home, a 14 plus year career in high tech where I easily
    earned over $100k/year, my animals, reputation and even freedom. CIVIL