Single mom says $75K seized by VPD during domestic dispute is her life savings, not drug money

A Vancouver woman is fighting for the return of more than $75,000 in cash that police seized when they removed an erratic ex-boyfriend from her apartment during a domestic dispute last year.

Paige Judd claims the money is her life savings, earned through tips as a restaurant server, and not profits from the drug trade as alleged by police, according to a judgment handed down in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday.

The court has granted her the right to argue her charter rights were breached when police searched her apartment and took the cash, an argument that will be heard ahead of the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office’s application to keep the money.

“Ms. Judd is a person of relatively modest means, for whom the cost of a full trial … would be prohibitive,” Justice Lindsay Lyster wrote in the judgment.

If Judd wins the charter case, evidence taken during the search of her apartment will be excluded from trial, presumably sinking the civil forfeiture case.

The director of the civil forfeiture office had argued that all the evidence in the case should be presented at once, but the judge said that would require Judd to pay for things like expert witnesses.

“If there is a possibility that she may be spared that cost by the charter issues being severed, then in the absence of any prejudice to the director, and there is none here, the interests of justice favour such an order being made,” Lyster wrote.

B.C.’s civil forfeiture program allows the government to claim property believed to be either the proceeds or tools of crime, even when no criminal charges have been laid. The process uses the civil court system rather than the criminal court system, which means the allegations only need to be proven on a balance of probabilities rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

Watch: B.C.’s civil forfeiture system explained

CBC’s Bethany Lindsay explains how B.C.’s civil forfeiture system works. 1:55

In Judd’s case, $75,110 in mostly large bills was seized from her baby’s nursery during a call that was unrelated to the drug trade, according to the judgment.

But Judd’s ex-boyfriend, Mohammed Alaqrawi, was also found inside the baby’s room and he has a history of drug charges, according to the notice of claim from the civil forfeiture office. Police say tests performed on the money showed cocaine residue. 

Alaqrawi and Judd are both named as defendants in the claim, which states that Judd was unable to “provide any credible evidence of [the money’s] legitimate acquisition.”

Ex-boyfriend barricaded himself inside apartment

Members of the Vancouver Police Department were called to Judd’s apartment building on the morning of Feb. 8, 2019, according to the judgment.

Judd had woken up that day to find Alaqrawi, her child’s father, inside her home. She’d given him keys and permission to be there, but he was “behaving erratically” and she asked him to leave, the judgment says.

Shortly after he left, there was a fire alarm because of a mattress fire in the basement and Judd had to leave the building with her baby and dog. While she was gone, Alaqrawi returned and used heavy furniture to barricade himself inside her apartment.

It took officers nearly four hours and the assistance of a crisis negotiator, chainsaw, robot and police dog to get inside the suite and locate Alaqrawi under the baby’s crib. The cash was found strewn across the room.

Judd argues that she did not ask police to break into her apartment, and if they’d asked her, she would have said no.

“She says that she was not permitted to enter her residence for over seven hours, and that she asked police officers twice if she could enter her home to get diapers, food and clothes for her baby, and was told no,” Lyster wrote.

“She says the police questioned her without advising her that she had the right to remain silent.”

Judd’s lawyer, Lolita Rudovica, describes the case as an important test of police powers and the rights of everyday citizens.

“The Canadian public has the privilege of being protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This case involves important questions about the limits on the police power to seize, retain and search private property,” Rudovica wrote in an email to CBC.

A date has yet to be set for the charter question to be heard.