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B.C. magic mushroom bust leads to $334K forfeiture claim and Charter challenge

A Vancouver Police Department drug trafficking investigation led to the seizure of $334,890 and three luxury vehicles that are now subject to forfeiture; but one alleged trafficker wants to keep the money.
Dried psilocybin mushrooms are displayed in a glass bowl.

A B.C. man facing drug trafficking charges is claiming police officers breached his rights when they arrested him and seized over $334,000 belonging to him — at least in part — from a Vancouver apartment.

As such, Sean Christopher Norgan is contesting the B.C. Director of Civil Forfeiture’s claim against the cash that, according to a recent court ruling, Norgan “asserts an ownership interest in.”

On May 31, Norgan, with assistance from his criminal defence lawyer Tony Paisana, won his application for the court to first consider his allegations of Charter violations when he was arrested, prior to considering the forfeiture claim by the director.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alan Ross ruled in Norgan’s favour.

As the forfeiture matter proceeds, Norgan is also set to face a trial for four criminal charges laid against him: possession for the purpose of distribution; possession of property obtained by crime; and two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking. Norgan is presumed innocent until the court rules on the case.

Norgan alleges two Charter breaches. First, Vancouver police officers opened Canada Post packages they intercepted from a residence allegedly linked to Norgan but did so without a warrant. The packages contained psilocybin mushrooms and led to further investigation, including a warrant to search an apartment on Beach Avenue where Norgan was arrested — the second alleged Charter breach.

The director’s claim against Norgan also names Leisa Jina, Isaac Conan Ho and Dennis Alin Tabarana as defendants. In addition to $334,890 being seized the director is also targeting a Porsche, Camaro and Mercedes Benz. Norgan does not have an interest in the vehicles.

The manner in which the criminal and civil (forfeiture) cases proceed are described by Justice Ross as a “nascent area of the law.”

B.C.’s civil forfeiture regime allows for assets to be seized by the government if the director can prove there are reasonable grounds to believe they are criminal proceeds or instruments of crime, even if a criminal conviction is not obtained. As such, the regime is controversial with civil liberty advocates.

Likewise, unexplained wealth orders are perceived by some civil libertarians and criminal defence lawyers as excessive state power.

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