Three cheers for Canada’s Supreme Court!!!
I did a little story on cops using sniffer dogs at road side checks in Ontario. I wrote this quite a while back but it still seems very relevant. Read on for some interesting insight into this issue.
Drug Units going along for the RIDE program
Recently, on the Trans-Canada Highway, 300 cars were pulled over by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Tri-Force Drug Unit during a RIDE program, but while not a single person was charged with drunk driving, eight drug related charges were laid.
Sgt. Brian Brattengeier of the Tri-Force Drug Unit, which operates in the Thunder Bay area, said that the RIDE program must come to include screening for drivers who are impaired by narcotics. He hopes drug units will become part of the RIDE program throughout the province to address the increased incidences of driving under the influence of drugs. “We have a concern that now in lieu of RIDE programs people are consuming drugs and driving,” said Brattengeier.
But some critics are concerned the Tri-Force Drug Unit is using the RIDE program to conduct unlawful searches of people’s vehicles. “There’s no doubt that the police are cracking down on drug consumption by drivers or other persons in the car, the question is simply what can they and can’t they do?” said Christopher Bentley, a criminal lawyer in London. Bentley said the Charter of Rights protects drivers from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Police have the right to search a person’s vehicle if they see or smell evidence of narcotics or drug paraphernalia, if the person is arrested, or if the person consents to a search. There are no rules however governing what tactics the police are using in order to get a person’s consent to search their vehicle.
Mark Schindler, a 27-year-old engineer who was driving to London Ontario from Vancouver British Columbia on the Trans-Canada Highway, was one of the drivers stopped by police on May 5th. Schindler felt that the police tried to intimidate him into allowing a search of his vehicle.
“I was in shock,” said Schindler. “If it had been a regular RIDE program, I would have known what to expect. RIDE programs are out in the open. With this I felt like I was being threatened with a search even though I was clearly not impaired and there was no evidence of drugs in the car.”
The police asked Schindler to get out of his car and they then asked him when was the last time he had done narcotics. They asked if he had narcotics in the car and when he answered no, they continued to use tactics to pressure him into allowing access to his vehicle. “They told me they had drug dogs who would find any drugs in the car,” said Schindler.
“I didn’t think that they were allowed to just pull me over and search my car, but I wasn’t sure what my rights were. I don’t want to be living in a police state where the Police can make up the rules and do whatever they want.”
The police cannot search a vehicle or even use drug sniffing dogs inside a vehicle without the driver’s consent. A driver can deny police access to their vehicle if there is no evidence that they have done anything illegal.
“Most people don’t know what their rights are,” said Brattengeier. “If I can trick someone into admitting that there are drugs in the car, I’ll trick him,” he said, “and I can trick almost anyone.”
“I don’t have a problem with the police trying to prevent people from using drugs and driving,” said Sneider, “but where do you draw the line? Can they just pull you over anytime and start looking through your things? Will they be knocking on my door at home next to come in and have a look even thought there is no evidence that I have done anything wrong?”
If challenged in court, many of these searches could be deemed a violation of privacy rights, done without reasonable or probable grounds. Robert C. Sheppard, a London lawyer who specializes in impaired driving cases said, “A lot of people never question the legitimacy of the search and wind up pleading guilty.” Many others do not have the information or resources to challenge the searches in court, isolating those of lower incomes and making them more vulnerable to searches that violate their rights.
Brattengeier argued that if you are not breaking the law, you have nothing to hide. “It’s not a bad thing that people answer truthfully because they are committing an offense and putting people at risk.” “Is the right to privacy more important than the right to safety on the highways in Canada?” he asked.
Yet without set protocol for these searches, police are waiting for the judge to decide whether a search was lawful or not. “Ultimately it’s up to the trial judge, and the trial judge is being guided by existing case law and by the Charter of Rights and provisions of the criminal code,” said Sheppard. This seems to give the police permission to act now and answer questions later.
“I know the police are doing their jobs and trying to keep the roads safe,” said Schindler, “but we must guard our rights, and not back down to threats and intimidation. I don’t want to be considered guilty until proven innocent.”