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Toronto justice slams police for unconstitutional strip searches

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In our last post, we talked about a new initiative in Ontario to review police use of strip searches as well as the leading Supreme Court of Canada case on the subject. Today, we have news about a recent Ontario case that dealt with this sensitive and difficult subject in the Ontario Court of Justice.

In our post about the new systemic review being conducted by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director or OIPRD, we noted that the director had expressed frustration at the lack of improvement in the way strip searches are being used in arrests by law enforcement in the province. Similarly, Justice Heather McArthur in finding that the strip search in the criminal case before her was unconstitutional said that the defendant’s experience “was not an isolated incident,” but a systemic issue in the local police division at issue.

The Toronto judge’s opinion was described in a July 4 article in the Toronto Star. The Star also cited shocking 2013 data that suggests Toronto police used strip searches in about one-third of all arrests.

The case involved charges of impaired driving brought after police made the defendant remove his pants at the police station after having been arrested. The judge said that there were not reasonable grounds for the request. Finding the search unconstitutional, the justice stayed the proceedings and referred to the practice as “egregious police misconduct” and “blatantly unconstitutional behavior.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has said that reasonable grounds for a strip search must include either a search for weapons or for evidence of crime associated with the reason a defendant has been arrested, among other requirements.

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