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Strip Searches and Charter Rights

Strip Searches engage important Charter Rights. The following cases shed some light on the constitutionality of strip searches.

R. v. Golden 2001 SCJ No 81 para 101

In this connection, we find the guidelines contained in the English legislation, P.A.C.E. concerning the conduct of strip searches to be in accordance with the constitutional requirements of s. 8 of the Charter.  The following questions, which draw upon the common law principles as well as the statutory requirements set out in the English legislation, provide a framework for the police in deciding how best to conduct a strip search incident to arrest in compliance with the Charter:

1.     Can the strip search be conducted at the police station and, if not, why not?

2.     Will the strip search be conducted in a manner that ensures the health and safety of all involved?

3.     Will the strip search be authorized by a police officer acting in a supervisory capacity?

4.     Has it been ensured that the police officer(s) carrying out the strip search are of the same gender as the individual being searched?

5.     Will the number of police officers involved in the search be no more than is reasonably necessary in the circumstances?

6.     What is the minimum of force necessary to conduct the strip search?

7.     Will the strip search be carried out in a private area such that no one other than the individuals engaged in the search can observe the search?

8.     Will the strip search be conducted as quickly as possible and in a way that ensures that the person is not completely undressed at any one time?

9.     Will the strip search involve only a visual inspection of the arrestee’s genital and anal areas without any physical contact?

10.   If the visual inspection reveals the presence of a weapon or evidence in a body cavity (not including the mouth), will the detainee be given the option of removing the object himself or of having the object removed by a trained medical professional?

11.   Will a proper record be kept of the reasons for and the manner in which the

strip search was conducted? [emphasis added]

 R. v. Fearon 2014 3 SCR 621

Finally, officers must make detailed notes of what they have examined on the cell phone. The Court encouraged this sort of note keeping in Vu in the context of a warranted search: para. 70. It also encouraged that notes be kept in the context of strip searches: Golden, at para. 101. In my view, given that we are dealing here with an extraordinary search power that requires neither a warrant nor reasonable and probable grounds, the obligation to keep a careful record of what is searched and how it was searched should be imposed as a matter of constitutional imperative. The record should generally include the applications searched, the extent of the search, the time of the search, its purpose and its duration. After-the-fact judicial review is especially important where, as in the case of searches incident to arrest, there is no prior authorization. Having a clear picture of what was done is important to such review being effective. In addition, the record keeping requirement is likely to have the incidental effect of helping police officers focus on the question of whether their conduct in relation to the phone falls squarely within the parameters of a lawful search incident to arrest. [emphasis added] para 82

In my view, we can achieve that balance with a rule that permits searches of cell phones incident to arrest, provided that the search — both what is searched and how it is searched — is strictly incidental to the arrest and that the police keep detailed notes of what has been searched and why (at para 4)

In this respect, a cell phone search is completely different from the seizure of bodily samples in Stillman and the strip search in Golden. Such searches are invariably and inherently very great invasions of privacy and are, in addition, a significant affront to human dignity. That cannot be said of cell phone searches incident to arrest (at para 55).

R. v. Ly 2016 ABCA 229 at para 12

Cellphone searches, the Court went on to explain, may also be appropriate as a search incident to arrest subject to two additional conditions: the search must be tailored to its purpose and the police are required to take detailed notes of what they examined and how they examined it.  [emphasis added
R. v. Saeed 2016 SCC 24 at para 89

Mr. Saeed was informed in advance of the procedure for taking the swab and the purpose of the swab.  The swab itself was conducted quickly, smoothly, and privately.  The swab took at most two minutes.  Mr. Saeed took the swab himself.  There was no physical contact between the officers and Mr. Saeed.  The officers involved took detailed notes regarding the reasons for and the process of taking the swab. [emphasis added]
R. v. Smith [2010] O.J. No. 1596



Ontario Court of Justice

M. Greene J.

March 17, 2010

CHARTER OF RIGHTS — SECTION 7 — Abuse of process — Strip search — Stay of charge.


Fact that a small amount of cocaine is in one’s wallet,
coupled with accused’s original denial that he was in
possession of any narcotics, was not a sufficient basis
to warrant a strip search.

“… I do not agree that merely because Mr. Smith had a
very small amount of cocaine in his wallet it was
reasonable to conclude that he had more on him, hidden in
personal areas like under his testicles or between the
cheeks of his buttocks. I note that Mr. Smith was not a
drug dealer and it was not reasonable to conclude that he
had had more drugs concealed on him in these particular
areas. By the time the strip search was ordered, Mr.
Smith had already been subjected to a second, more
thorough and intrusive pat down search which yielded

… I find that objectively, looking at all the facts,
while there was a slight possibility of more drugs on Mr.
Smith, there was not reasonable and probable grounds that
drugs were on him. The fact that a small amount of
cocaine was located in Mr. Smith’s wallet provided the
basis to conduct a more thorough and invasive pat down
search. When this yielded nothing, given that Mr. Smith
was not suspected of being a drug trafficker, there was
no basis to believe on reasonable and probable grounds
that more narcotics would be found on Mr. Smith. While it
was a possibility, it did not reach the standard of
reasonable and probable grounds.”

Stay of charge granted as appropriate remedy.

“Had the breach been limited to the strip search without
proper grounds, I would not have granted the stay. As
previously stated, I believe that Detective Eckland was
acting in good faith and that while the breach is
serious, had the search been conducted in a respectful
fashion with a full understanding of the gravity of the
search, it would not have been one of the clearest of
cases and would not have warranted a stay of proceedings.
When I take into consideration Officer Johnson’s blatant
disregard for the Toronto Police Services policies in
relation to strip searches and his disregard for Mr.
Smith’s privacy and dignity by conducting the strip
search in a room with the door partially open I find that
a stay of proceedings is warranted. As was stated in R.
v. Golden, supra at para89, strip searches can be
“humiliating, embarrassing and degrading for those who
are subject to them and any post facto remedies for
unjustified strip searches cannot erase the arrestee’s
experience of being strip searched”. The lack of regard
by P.C. Johnson to the impact of a strip search on a
detainee coupled with the absence of grounds to conduct
the strip search warrants the most serious remedy our
Courts can offer. In my view, the continued prosecution
of Mr. Smith, in light of the violation that occurred,
would cause irreparable prejudice to the integrity of the
judicial system.”













Categories: Charter Rights, Know your rights, search or seizure, strip searches, Supreme Court
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