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Manitoba aims to turn homes tied to suspected crime into affordable housing

Manitoba aims to turn homes tied to suspected crime into affordable housing

WINNIPEG. MAN. – Six homes connected to suspected criminal activity could soon become affordable housing under a new approach by the Manitoba government to the seizure and sale of criminal assets.

The six properties, in the Point Douglas neighbourhood near downtown Winnipeg, were seized under the province’s Criminal Property Forfeiture Act.

The law allows justice officials to launch a civil proceeding in which they ask a judge to give them assets that are the proceeds or instruments of unlawful activity. Normally, the assets are sold at roughly market value and the money raised is given to victims, victim service agencies and police.

This time, the province is looking to sell the six properties for $1 each to an Indigenous or non-profit organization, which would then develop affordable single-family homes for sale to low- and moderate-income families.

“After some discussion and certainly hearing input from others in the community, It was decided that it would be best not to monetize the homes but to turn them into a place where individuals can live and hopefully help to revitalize the neighbourhood a little bit,” Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Wednesday.

The government issued a request for proposals this week to seek out interested parties. The properties are assessed at between $75,000 and $215,000 each, the request for proposals states.

Sel Burrows, a community activist in Point Douglas, welcomed the move. Seizing assets tied to suspected crime sends a strong message to criminals, he said, and new housing is needed.

“To get an organization to take those six houses, as many of them as can be fixed up, and made into family housing just strengthens the neighbourhood (and) makes it a healthier place to live,” Burrows said.

Goertzen would not specify which police operation the houses were tied to, but the sale comes two years after Project Matriarch, a crackdown by Winnipeg police on suspected drug production and trafficking in Point Douglas.

More than 20 people were arrested in that operation and police reported seizing more than $2.3 million in assets that included vehicles, weapons, bank accounts and 10 residences.

The property seizure law has raised concerns among some lawyers.

Scott Newman, a criminal defence lawyer in Winnipeg, pointed to the fact the assets can be seized without anyone being convicted of a crime. A judge only has to believe on a balance of probabilities that the assets are connected to unlawful activity.

“It’s always a concern when the government can come and take your belongings, regardless of what it is, whether or not a conviction has been entered,” Newman said.

The law can also be applied in small-scale suspected crimes, Newman said.

“There’s also the question of whether the punishment fits the crime. If you’re running a small-level grow-op or you sell $60 worth of pills to an undercover officer, should I lose my $300,000 house?”

Goertzen said people whose assets are being seized are allowed to go to court to challenge the move.

“The reality is that in the vast, vast majority of cases, there isn’t actually a dispute about the facts and the individual isn’t contesting it,” Goertzen said.


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