$55K seized in traffic stop forfeited despite no criminal charge

$55K seized in traffic stop forfeited despite no criminal charge

The New Brunswick government was allowed to keep more than $55,000 seized from an Ottawa man during a traffic stop in 2015, even though no criminal charges against the man ever proceeded to trial.

John Ivan Gorman was stopped by RCMP on Nov. 4, 2015, near Havelock because police suspected the tint on his windows exceeded the maximum allowable. The amount of tint was found to be within the allowable limit.

During a search of Gorman's vehicle, six bundles of cash held together with elastic bands totalling $54,200 and a bundle of $1,560 were found in a duffle bag. Most of the money was in $20 bills.

A police dog confirmed the presence of contraband substances on some of the money. Later in a laboratory, two of the six bundles of money tested positive for the presence of explosives and another tested positive for the presence of cocaine.

Not charged under Criminal Code

Gorman was never formally charged with possession of the proceeds of crime under the Criminal Code. A charge of possessing a restricted firearm without a licence was laid, but was later withdrawn.

However, the Attorney General of New Brunswick proceeded with the seizure of the money under the province's Civil Forfeiture Act, which carries a lower burden of proof than a Criminal Code offence.

Under the provincial law, the province has to show "on the balance of probabilities" that the cash seized was from criminal actions, as opposed to the threshold of "beyond a reasonable doubt" in criminal cases.

"In proceeding under the Civil Forfeiture Act, the Attorney General is pursuing a similar kind of claim, both for the ultimate benefit of the victims, but also in the public interest," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Jean-Paul Ouellette said in his ruling.

Ouellette issued an oral decision on Jan. 26, 2017, while the written version of his decision was released only recently.

Gorman's arguments included that the province didn't establish on the balance of probabilities that the money seized was from the proceeds of criminal activity. 

Gorman, who received social assistance in Ottawa, said he was not employed at the time of the seizure because of a medical condition. He said he had the $54,200 in cash with him as he was considering buying a friend's house in Nova Scotia for about $35,000. However, he decided against it because the house needed a lot of repairs.

When asked why he brought $54,200 to buy a $35,000 property, Gorman said he brought all his money in case he needed it. The bundle of $1,560 was his winnings from the Nova Scotia Casino in Halifax, which he visited on his trip, he said.

RCMP testimony

RCMP Sgt. T. Feeney said in an affidavit that Gorman's case is "significantly" similar to cases involving the movement of money that are the proceeds of crime and taken by criminality.

Under cross-examination, Feeney did not dispute that it is legal to travel with large amounts of cash or have money wrapped in elastic bands.  

However, he said that didn't change his opinion that the circumstances of Gorman's case are present in many others involving the proceeds of crime and trafficking of contraband, and that Gorman was a runner or trafficker in contraband and returning the money to central Canada.

In his ruling, Ouellette found Gorman's evidence "lacked credibility and was often farfetched and lacking in plausibility or defying common sense."

"It lacked harmony with the propensity of evidence that I did believe," he said.

"I am satisfied that the only rational inference which can be drawn from the evidence in this case is that the currency is the proceed of crime and is an instrument of unlawful activity which, if not confiscated, would likely be used for the purpose of trafficking more drugs," stated the judge in granting the province's application for the forfeiture.