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There are very few criminal charges in Ontario that carry the same weight or gravity as sexual crimes committed against a minor. Being convicted of possession of child pornography may mean years in prison and forever being labelled as a sex offender. The punishment is severe, which is why it is so important that any violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms be investigated thoroughly before a conviction is handed down. If police or the Crown has not respected someone’s Charter rights, a judge may throw out a case.
That is exactly what happened earlier this month when an Ottawa judge held that over 7,000 pictures of child pornography needed to be thrown out of evidence after a police officer illegally searched the defendant’s thumb drive and computer. Because the officer failed to get a warrant for the electronic media while searching for a gun, the pictures could not be admitted and the charges had to be dropped.
According to the judge’s ruling, the police detective had gone to the defendant’s home to search for an AK-47 assault rifle that police had received reports about. As the detective was looking, he noticed the defendant’s thumb drive and laptop computer and started looking through pictures. The officer says that he thought there may be a picture of the gun on the computer, which is why he started his illegal search, but the judge held that officer needed to get a search warrant before looking through any of the media.
Although this case may raise some concern because confirmed pictures of child pornography were excluded from evidence and the charges dropped, it is vitally important that members of the criminal justice system protect our rights. Without Section 8 of the Charter, the police would be able to search our things without cause and without virtually any limitation. And anything they found could be held against us.
Source: The Ottawa Citizen, “Illegal computer search by Ottawa police sinks child porn case,” Andrew Seymour, 11 Oct. 2013