On May 12, 2021, Cassels represented the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), an intervenor in the appeal hearing in Ontario (Attorney General) v Norwood Estate at the Ontario Court of Appeal. The case considered the limits of the Ontario Civil Remedies Act, the legislation that governs the seizure and forfeiture of assets suspected and determined to be tainted by crime. In particular, the matter on appeal concerned the question of whether seized assets could be disposed by the government through settlements with third parties before those assets were determined to be tainted by crime. The CCF argued that the Attorney General’s interpretation would grant it with power not permitted by the Civil Remedies Act, and could lead to significant consequences in future cases.
The Court of Appeal released its decision in the Norwood Estate appeal on July 6, 2021. In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and dismissed the Attorney General’s interpretation. The Court in turn adopted the CCF’s submissions as to the appropriate interpretation of the Civil Remedies Act. The Court agreed with CCF that the Civil Remedies Act must be subject to clear limits, especially in light of the fact that the civil forfeiture scheme permits the government to seize the private property of individuals who have never been charged, or even suspected, of a crime.
Following its decisive determination that the government cannot dispose of seized assets before they are determined to be the instruments of crime, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that the government should only be given a higher right to property to the exclusion of all others in the rare case that assets are determined to be the proceeds of crime or otherwise tainted by crime.
Cassels represented the Canadian Constitution Foundation at the Ontario Court of Appeal as part of the firm’s pro bono initiative.