In what may be one of the most protracted legal battles in Canadian history, the BC Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of the province’s Civil Forfeiture Office in its longstanding bid to take control of several Hells Angels properties.
In a decision released Wednesday, a trio of judges upheld the government’s bid to seize Hells Angels clubhouses in Nanaimo, Kelowna and Vancouver — a battle that began when the Civil Forfeiture Office seized the Nanaimo clubhouse in 2007, alleging it was linked to criminal activity.
The government later sought to take control of the Kelowna and Vancouver clubhouses in 2012.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Barry Davies handed down a ruling that returned the properties to the club’s possession three years ago after he determined the province had failed to prove that the clubhouses “enable or empower members of the Hells Angels to engage in serious crime for financial gain.”
While previously argued by Davies that the “future use prong” of the Civil Forfeiture Office’s case was unconstitutional, the appeal court justices overturned that ruling, stating that the evidence presented showed the clubhouses were likely to be used in the future for unlawful activities.
In the ruling, they state the clubhouses:
- would likely continue, as they have in the past, to “enhance and facilitate their members’ ability to commit unlawful acts by providing access to information stored for the purpose of reducing the risk of detection and prosecution”
- allowed Hells Angels members “to conspire or plan their engagement in crime,” including drug trafficking, violence and intimidations, “free from police surveillance, thereby further reducing the risk of detection and prosecution”
- enabled members’ ability to commit “serious crimes of the sort they have committed in the past”
The ruling means that the three Hells Angels clubhouse will be forfeited to the province, effective Nov. 9, 2007, and Nov. 19, 2012, respectively. Money obtained from the sale of the clubhouses will be paid into the civil forfeiture account.
After what had already been more than a decade-long legal back-and-forth between the two parties, Davies at the time of his ruling joked in court that the case “may never, ever end.” Wednesday’s ruling put the ongoing litigation into its 16th year.
It remains to be seen whether the Hells Angels will try to overturn this latest ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, the country’s highest court of appeal. To do so, the club would first need to be granted permission to appeal, and the SCC may decline to hear the case.
The ongoing court struggle has been closely watched by legal experts across Canada, touching upon broader issues related to civil forfeiture, property rights and the use of criminal law to target organized crime.