VANCOUVER – A British Columbia judge has ordered a 59-year-old marijuana grower to turn over his mortgage-free $600,000 home to the government. “The value of the equity in this property would appear to be higher than that in any other reported cases,” Provincial Court Judge Carol Baird Ellan wrote in a ruling ordering Roy Sundstrom to turn over his Roberts Creek, BC, acreage to the government.
More than 30 BC marijuana growers have had their homes forfeited in recent years under laws that allow the government to seize crime-related property. However, many of the seized homes were heavily mortgaged, meaning the financial hit to the offender was far more modest.
Sundstrom’s lawyer, Jay Solomon, said his client — who has no prior criminal record — is being punished for owning his house outright. “There’s an unfairness if one person is being penalized essentially $100,000 versus $600,000,” Mr. Solomon said. “He suffered a more serious penalty because he bought the property 20 years ago when property on the Sunshine Coast was cheap.” Roberts Creek is located 60 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.
Robert Prior, chief federal prosecutor for BC, said Sundstrom has only himself to blame. “Certainly the more money someone has wrapped up in a property, the greater they might feel the loss,” said Mr. Prior. “Whether it’s fair or not, that individual knew what risk they were taking.”
Mr. Prior added the decision illustrates that growing marijuana in BC is a high-risk gamble. “It’s a pretty strong message … from the courts that people could face some pretty significant consequences if convicted,” he said.
Sundstrom pleaded guilty to production of marijuana and possession for the purposes of trafficking after police raided his home in December, 2006. He argued in court that he didn’t know he risked losing his home and that he should receive a $75,000 fine or only lose a portion of his equity.
In a decision last year, Quebec’s Court of Appeal ruled that a marijuana grower in that province should only lose half the value of his house. Ms. Baird Ellan wrote that she was sympathetic to the idea, but noted that judgments by B. C.’s Court of Appeal make it clear that forfeiture in this province is an all-or-nothing decision. Mr. Solomon said Sundstrom plans to appeal the ruling.
The larger question of whether courts can order partial forfeiture of a criminal’s property will go before the Supreme Court of Canada on Nov. 13, when it hears an appeal of the Quebec case along with two B. C. growers who lost their homes.
– Article from National Post, Friday August 15