A man accused of human trafficking will not be allowed to use funds seized at the time of his arrest to pay for his defence after another courtroom win by Baker McKenzie’s pro bono team in support of Covenant House.

It was a precedent-setting victory says Litigator Chris Burkett.

“This is the first case we have seen in which a trafficking victim has successfully blocked an accused from accessing funds seized at the time of arrest,” he said.

The Baker McKenzie team included Chris along with Associate Jennifer Bernardo and summer student Faye Williams.

“We argued that the money had been earned by the victim while being exploited and controlled by the accused and that it would be perverse for him to be able to fund his defence to trafficking charges with that money,” Chris said.

In this case, the onus was on the accused to prove sole proprietorship of the funds, which he was unable to do. On July 28, after a two-day hearing in a Toronto court, Justice Nakatsuru ruled that the trafficking victim had a valid claim to the funds and dismissed the accused’s request to access the money.

Our partnership with Covenant House is part of Baker McKenzie’s fight against human trafficking and forced labour both in Canada and globally. Chris says the Firm is starting to earn a strong reputation in Toronto for this type of work.

“Both the Crown and the Toronto Police Human Trafficking Unit have praised our frontline pro bono work on behalf of victims,” he said. “Most often the victims are unrepresented and vulnerable young women with no access to competent legal counsel. These cases rarely go to court so we’re happy to set a good precedent.”

The case will now move on to the preliminary inquiry and trial, followed potentially by a forfeiture hearing.

“We may intervene at the forfeiture hearing stage to argue the money should be given to the victim,” Chris said.