Editorial: Mind the Charter

How embarrassing. Police entities across Ontario are under the microscope right now. There is a heightened attention from the public and media to various police enforcement tactics, and a recent Court of Appeal ruling had some strong words for an Ontario officer who Justice Peter Lauwers said violated the Charter doing a vehicle search.

In R. v. Harflett, a man driving down Highway 401 with Quebec plates was pulled over for driving with a suspended Ontario licence due to unpaid fines.

After the traffic stop, and the arrest of the man for driving with the licence of another jurisdiction while his Ontario licence was suspended, Ontario Provincial Police Const. Robert Sinclair searched the man’s car.

The plan was to have the man’s car towed to a nearby hotel, until the man could pay the fines and continue on his way. But, during the search, Sinclair came across a “large quantity” of marijuana in the car’s trunk. There begins the trouble. In his ruling, Lauwers overturned the man’s drug conviction.

He cites section 8 of the Charter, which says “that everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.”

“The state misconduct was serious and the impact on the appellant’s Charter rights was significant,” said Lauwers.

The harsh words didn’t stop there — and one hopes that Sinclair’s supervisors at the OPP are reading closely.

“I do not doubt that Constable Sinclair believes that he is doing the right thing, and to that extent shows good faith,” wrote Lauwers.

“As an instructor of other police officers, he ought to be fully conversant with his legal authority, but the evidence shows either that he was not or that he was prepared to search regardless. His attitude was exemplified by his testimony: he resisted the notion that what he did was a ‘search.’. . . this was plainly a search.” 

Vehicle stops, and vehicle searches, are a charged area. Highway 401 is a busy place.

Lauwers’ words are pretty clear. Mind the Charter, OPP.

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