B.C.'s bent for secrecy over civil forfeiture office not shared by other provinces

Minister unswayed, defends shroud over civil forfeiture office

Most Canadian provinces don't share the security concerns that have led B.C. to shroud its civil forfeiture office in secrecy.

Four of seven provinces with civil forfeiture offices told the Times Colonist they would publicly release the names of their employees, and a fifth province said it would consider releasing the names upon a formal freedom of information request.

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That's in contrast to the B.C. government, which last month rejected an FOI request for employee names, saying those civil servants could be threatened by criminals if their identities were revealed.

Critics have said it's unprecedented for the government to refuse such basic information about an entire branch of a government ministry. Judges, Crown prosecutors and police officers routinely deal with criminals and gangs, but in most cases aren't anonymous.

B.C.'s civil forfeiture office, created in 2006, has seized $28 million in proceeds from criminal activity, including cars, helicopters, houses and cash.

Ontario, which has the most criminal activity in Canada, lists the name of every civil forfeiture employee on its government Internet directory.

Ontario has a comparable number of gang-related homicides to B.C., according to Statistics Canada. An Ontario Justice Ministry spokesperson said the government had no comment on security issues in its civil forfeiture office.

Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia also release employee names. A New Brunswick spokesperson said the civil forfeiture director's name is available on its government website "if you know who you're looking for."

Manitoba officials refused, citing employee safety.

Alberta officials said the identity of its civil forfeiture director is already public, but they would require an official freedom-of-information request before they would decide on whether to release all staff names.

"In each request we strive to be open and transparent and to disclose as much information, while respecting the privacy and security of individuals," said an Alberta spokesperson.

B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond appeared unswayed by other provinces.

"Certainly, different provinces may assess and manage risk differently," she said in a statement.

"But what's important to me as minister is that we've had police and security experts assess the risk posed by working to take away instruments and proceeds of unlawful activity here in B.C. - assets that frequently have ties to gangs and organized crime - and that we continue to follow security protocols based on expert assessments."

B.C.'s civil forfeiture office is self-funding. The government announced Monday it was donating $1 million in proceeds from crime toward groups that help keep youth out of gangs.

Meanwhile, the government also announced that Rob Kroeker, who was the civil forfeiture office's founding director, has left government work for another job.

Kroeker was the only employee in the office to be publicly identified. He's been replaced on an acting basis by the office's deputy director.

The Justice Ministry refused Tuesday to release the acting director's name. rshaw@timescolonist.com

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