In February 1968, in the lead of a story about a godforsaken place called Ben Tre, the journalist Peter Arnett quoted an unidentified American Army Major as saying, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
The quote became a catch phrase to describe the irony of the first war America lost. Really it wasn’t much different than the words Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy scribbled on his helmet cover: “Fighting for peace is like screwing for chastity.” Arnett’s quote was just a little less crude. And, Arnett didn’t bother to describe the cynical or world weary or bitter or fatuous look on that anonymous Major’s face. So the quote has become a shorthand phrase for all absurd and self defeating demonstrations of power.
The international war on motorcycle clubs – which has devolved from the Global War on Terror because cops can’t infiltrate al Qaeda but they can form opinions about “biker gangs” – has become one of those absurd and self defeating demonstrations of power. Obvious examples of allies in the War on Terror destroying democratic liberties in the name of the common good are the VLAD laws in Australia and the festering Mongols Nation case in Los Angeles. Then, there is also the use of a civil forfeiture law in British Columbia to try to drive the Hells Angels from that province; because everybody who counts – from the deluded Kurt Sutter to the pathetic Jorge Gil-Blanco – knows the Hells Angels is, as a Canadian judge put it recently. “an organization, I think it may safely be said, that is notorious throughout North America for criminal activity.”
By which they all mean, the Angels is notorious for its criminal activity on television. And what else could “reality” mean, other than what we see on television.
British Columbia raided and seized the Hells Angels’ Nanaimo clubhouse in November 2007 citing a B.C. law passed in May 2006 called the “Civil Forfeiture Act.” At the time, B.C. Solicitor General John Les told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “We are able to seize properties and assets that we think have been gained through unlawful activity or are the instruments of unlawful activity…. It is up to the owners or the owner of that property or assets to demonstrate to the court that they were in fact lawfully obtained or lawfully used…. Hopefully we will get an order where at the end of day this property will be forfeited to the provincial government at which point we will sell the property and use the proceeds for crime fighting and other policing resources.”
If you don’t understand that asset forfeiture based on unproven allegations is a totalitarian witch hunt, you can probably stop reading now. Louis Brandeis said the most basic human right is the right to “be let alone.” Bullies like John Les agree and want to add the tiny, little disclaimer, “unless I don’t like you.”
The Neo-Nazis who police B.C. have gotten nowhere with their forfeiture case in court, but that is hardly the point of the case. Modern justice is a court war of attrition and governments, with their unlimited resources, always win court wars of attrition. A former Mountie named Phil Tawtel who runs the B.C. forfeiture office seized two more Hells Angels clubhouses in 2012.
Last week a Canadian Supreme Court Justice named Barry Davies told the government that it either had to prove which Hells Angels broke which laws or drop the forfeiture proceedings.
Last Thursday, the forfeiture office asked Davies to modify their suit by dropping the criminal allegations against individual Angels that were the alleged basis for the forfeiture because the government can’t prove they are true. Instead the B.C. forfeiture office wants to argue that the three clubhouses should be forfeited because they will be used for future criminal activity.
“What we propose is amendments that would drop all the allegations of specific criminal acts by individuals,” a lawyer for the forfeiture office said. “So the theory becomes relatively simple and it has two parts. The first is that we have to establish that the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a criminal organization in the meaning of the criminal code. The second proposition is that these clubhouses are instruments that the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club use to further their criminal activity, and that is evidence that we will have to lead.”
The evidence the province will use will be what its lawyers call “opinion evidence” from “key law enforcement experts on the biker gang.”
“The principal evidence I intend to call is opinion evidence that will explain….the nature of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, their purposes and operation and the role that clubhouses play in the organization as such. That’s the way I intend to prove the case,” a forfeiture lawyer named John Hunter told Judge Davies.
The Canadian Angels’ lawyer, a man named Joseph Arvay, argued that the whole case is unconstitutional. “If there’s no past crime, once (the forfeiture office) proves that the Hells Angels are a criminal organization on the balance of probabilities, he will now ask you to find on the balance of probabilities that the members of the Hells Angels…have a propensity to commit crime…. This would completely violate any of the rules of criminal law.”
What the B.C. government wants to do, in other words, is destroy the law in order to preserve law and order. And there is no reason to think that any of the province’s lawyers is making this argument with a cynical or world weary or bitter look on their faces. They want to reduce the law to an absurdity. They really do – in order to compel us all to respect the law more.