More and more legal knowledge is expected of officers investigating crime.  I offer here some thoughts on criminal law.  I hope they help.

These are my opinions only, not those of any government agency.  Please do not view them as a substitute for legal advice. If you find errors or have suggestions, please email me.

- Henry Waldock


My publisher collected many of the more frequently-used chapters of my books into a single (cheaper) paperback edition: "Common Canadian Criminal Code Offences and Procedures 2016-2017".  Some of you may find it useful.


New Law

2017.05.19 Impaired Driving - Search Incidental to Arrest

The day after a murder, a police officer driving an unmarked police car noticed Mr Pearson, 2011 ONSC 1913 drive a vehicle with excessively tinted windows. The officer pulled him over to discuss the unlawful tinting. When Mr Pearson opened his window, an odour of marijuana wafted out. Mr Pearson's slow movements and red eyes led the officer to require him to perform sobriety tests. Mr Pearson failed. The officer arrested him for driving while impaired by a drug.

Could the officer search Mr Pearson's trunk for drugs?

A knapsack there contained shotgun shells which linked Mr Pearson to the murder.

Defence argued that an arrest allows an officer to search only to arm's length. When arresting for impaired driving, the officer can not look in the trunk.

The trial judge said that an officer who arrests a driver impaired by drugs may search the trunk for the drugs that impaired him. This week, the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed. Pearson, 2017 ONCA 389.


This decision does not say that every time you arrest someone in a car, you can search the trunk. There must be a reasonable prospect that you will find evidence of the offence in the trunk at the time that you search.

Mr Pearson was charged with murder and with impaired driving. A jury convicted him of murder. He lost his appeal. I don't know what happened to the driving charge.

2017.05.19 Unprompted Admissions while awaiting Legal Advice

A month later, another officer stopped Mr Pearson, 2017 ONCA 389, again because of the excessively tinted windows. This officer saw a shotgun shell lying on the back seat. The officer arrested Mr Pearson and his passenger for unsafe transportation. Mr Pearson wanted to talk to a lawyer. Before giving him that opportunity, the officer asked questions about the shell. He answered.

Later, on the drive to the police station, Mr Pearson asked the officer what charges his passenger faced. The officer told him his passenger faced the same charge. Mr Pearson then asserted the he was responsible for the shotgun shell, not his passenger.

That proved to be an important remark in the murder trial. The trial judge denounced the officer's initial questions, but admitted the remarks in the police car, because the officer did not elicit them. Talking about them was entirely Mr Pearson's idea.  The appeal court agreed.

This case demonstrates several lessons:

  1. Don't ask questions about the offence after detention or arrest, but before the suspect gets the legal advice he requested.
  2. Don't deliberately set up the suspect to make remarks about the case before the suspect gets legal advice.
  3. Document carefully all unprompted remarks that the suspect makes during this period. Heck, keep a recording device going during all your interactions with him.  (But tell him you're recording.)

2017.05.06 Consent Seizure - Warrant drafting

Mr Reeves, 2017 ONCA 365, was on parole. He and his common-law spouse owned a house together, but because he have been violent to her in the past, he could visit only with her express permission.

His common-law spouse looked into the computer they shared, and found evidence of child pornography. She told his parole officer, and she told the parole officer she didn't want to see him any more.

Mr Reeves got into more trouble, and was arrested.

Word reached police. An officer visited the common-law, and asked for her consent to seize the computer. He did a smart thing. He got her written consent.

He got the computer, but he did not report it to a justice for 4 months. No "5.2". The judges didn't like that.

Another officer applied for a warrant to search the computer. That officer also did wise and unwise things.

The officer included lengthy quotes from the statements of the common-law spouse and her daughter, to explain why the officers thought that the computer contained child pornography. That balanced out his exaggerated and inaccurate summary about what they saw. Seeing a filename in a computer suggestive of child pornography is one thing. Seeing child pornography is another. Don't pretend one is the other. Judges don't like it when you exaggerate the strength of the information you have to support your application.

This exaggeration results from a natural human tendency to draw inferences from information, and to recite the inferences instead of the information. We all do it. One can limit this tendency by returning to the raw evidence and comparing it to your summary.

The officer also forgot to mention the years of strife between the common-law spouse and Mr Reeves. The justice should have been told of them, in case bitterness inspired her to make false allegations against him. You have an obligation of full and frank disclosure. When applying for a warrant, include the information you know about that makes your witnesses look less reliable.

I liked this judge's analysis of what consent of one party means when you seize property that belongs to two people. Give paragraphs 54-71 a read.

I was somewhat troubled by the judges' finding that the officer's failure to report the computer to a justice violated s.489.1. A "seizure" occurs when the state takes something without consent. This officer plainly received the computer with consent. Perhaps the judges got it right. I doubt the officer would have returned the computer to the common-law spouse if she had asked for it back. The officer did understand it to contain child pornography, and had the right to seize it under s.489(2).

Remember to write your report to a justice. If in doubt, complete your Form 5.2.

2017.04.30 Big Investigations - Pre-Charge Delay in Big and Little Investigations

When Hickman Equipment Ltd went bust in Newfoundland, investigators found reasons to suspect corporate fraud. The investigation took 10 years. At trial, Mr Hunt, 2017 SCC 25 and other senior managers of the corporation persuaded the judge to throw the case out because it took too long to get started. Two of three judges in the Court of Appeal agreed. But one appeal court judge said the trial should proceed. Most of the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with her. These charges should proceed.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently changed the rules for post-charge delay. The clock starts ticking loud and clear when charges are laid. But this case involved pre-charge delay. There are some lessons to learn here.

Mr Hunt complained that the collapse of the company and the loss of his job caused him harm. But the police didn't cause any of those problems. These complaints did not provide reasons to drop the charges.

Mr Hunt complained of the injury to his reputation by reason of the publicity and gossip around the collapse of the company. He couldn't get another job. And he feared for many years that he was under investigation.

This complaint cuts closer to you as investigators. If you leak details of your investigation improperly, you might cause harm to your suspects.  But these investigators didn't. Too bad for Mr Hunt.

The trial judge thought charges could have been laid earlier. It turns out that doesn't matter.

The highest court agreed that haste in laying charges is a bad idea.

Except for s.505 of the Criminal Code, the law does not require you to lay charges at the earliest opportunity. Indeed, if further investigation might make the case clearer, perhaps you investigate before swearing charges. Before deciding  to turn someone's life upside-down, you should generally gather all available information.

The post-charge delay clock starts when you lay charges. Prosecutors in BC like - whenever possible - to wait until the investigation completes before starting that clock. (Offenders who pose ongoing risks to society often force our hand.)

There is no pre-charge delay clock. But if your investigation will take a long time, then take care not to conduct it in a manner which inflicts lengthy harm on the suspects.

Those are the big investigations.

Now let's talk about s.505, and the little cases. When you release someone on an appearance notice or PTA, that section requires you to lay an information "as soon as practicable thereafter".

I think it's foolish legislation because it rushes police officers into laying charges even before they finish their investigations. What a formula for injustice!

Don't ignore this legal obligation. But try not to let it prevent you from investigating properly. Don't let it force you to lay unjustified charges.

2017.04.13 Undercover Operations - Mr Big's Cousin Works at a Furniture Store

Mr Big's fame undermines his effectiveness. His relatives can sometimes help.

When Mr Cyr had an affair, 'someone' murdered his wife.


Mr Cyr worked at a law firm as a paralegal. His wife's dad's law firm. He had an affair with a secretary there. When the affair came to light, dad must have been unhappy. Cyr got fired.

Naturally, Mr Cyr told uniformed investigators he knew nothing about who killed his wife.

Mr Cyr knew all about Mr Big. Investigators needed some other way to win his trust.

When he got fired, Mr Cyr needed a job. He signed up to become a salesman at a furniture company called "Bad Boy". (Seriously. I am not making this up.)

Shortly after he got that job, another guy signed up with "Bad Boy". That guy already had a job. As a cop. A UCO.

They became friends. Mr Cyr talked about his dream of buying a canoe business. The UCO thought that was a great idea. He wanted in on this opportunity. Somehow, the UCO managed to persuade the owner to sell, and got lots of documents to prove it. Cyr agreed to be partners with the UCO, along with Cyr's good friend Zvolensky, 2017 ONCA 273.

But the UCO had a problem. His evil ex-wife. If only she were dead.

She even called the UCO when he was with Cyr and Zvolensky. She was toxic. Zvolensky suggested he'd kill her. The group started making plans. During those discussions, they revealed how Zvolensky and his buddy Qahwash at Cyr's request killed Cyr's wife in a manner to make sure that it couldn't be linked to Cyr.

Good buddies indeed.

The UCO operation led to discovery of the murder weapon, bearing fingerprints of Qahwash and DNA of Zvolensky. All this evidence came out at trial. The prosecution called evidence at trial that the canoe company and "Bad Boy" cooperated with the undercover operation. "Bad Boy" ain't so bad after all.

All three good buddies got convicted of first degree murder.

At trial defence complained that the UCO's evidence was unfair:

This operation involved no interrogation like the Mr Big interview. No threats. No inducements. The judges liked that.

This operation did involve making the targets look like bad guys. That makes judges skittish. But the probative value of the evidence obtained, particularly the murder weapon, made the judges comfortable with its admission.

If you plan UCO operations, this case is mandatory reading.

While I'm impressed by Mr Big's work-ethic, I've long felt that other members of his family should earn their keep. I'm glad to see that his cousin finally got a job. Even if it was just at a furniture store.

Inventive work pays off, but keep the principles of Hart in the back of your minds when you plan your scenarios.

2017.04.01 Warrantless Search of a Residence - Exigent Circumstances or Social Work?

Someone noticed a 4-year-old boy standing alone near a busy intersection, wearing only a diaper. The passer-by called 911. When police arrived, they found the boy in his mother's arms, wrapped in a blanket. The dad arrived minutes later.

The dad, Mr Davidson, 2017 ONCA 257 explained that the boy suffered autism, and tended to wander from their home, which was 50m away.

The attending officer wanted to look inside to see if the house was safe for the child.

He didn't get a written consent, but basically invited himself in.

While looking around to see if the kitchen contained food for the boy, the officer noticed a smell of marijuana. Down in the basement, where the smell became particularly strong, he found a locked door. When the officer asked for a key, Mr Davidson kicked the door open, and behind it police found a grow operation.

The trial judge thought that a police officer's powers of search in cases of imminent harm justified this intrusion into Davidson's home. He relied on the well-known case of 911 calls, Godoy.

The appeal court disagreed. When discussing the power to enter a residence to preserve life, they said:

The police must reasonably believe that the life or safety of a person inside the home is in danger. And once inside the home, their authority is limited to ascertaining the reason for the call and providing any needed assistance. They do not have any further authority to search the home or intrude on a resident’s privacy or property.

...Godoy does not give the police sweeping authority to enter a home without a warrant to investigate whether a child’s mother and father are good parents.

The boy was safe. The police had no reason to believe that anyone else was in danger. Although the search was to prevent harm to a child, the officer lacked reason to suspect that there was any imminent danger. This was a social work investigation, not an imminent harm investigation.

There's one phrase in this decision which raises a red flag: "reasonably believe". In MacDonald, 2014 SCC 3, the court split 5:4 whether you needed "belief" or "suspicion" that violating privacy was necessary in order to protect life. The majority chose "belief" in the existence of an "imminent threat" before police can violate the privacy of a residence. I've always thought that a reasonable "suspicion" that someone will suffer serious injury or death suffices.

Perhaps it's just semantic games. Is there really any difference between believing that someone may get hurt, or suspecting that someone will get hurt?

To enter someone's residence without consent, you need reasonably reliable information suggesting imminent danger to someone. When you go in, limit your search to its purpose: resolve the danger and get out.


 Production Orders to the Press - Same Standard as the Rest of Us ... sort of

A Canadian member of ISIS chatted online with a reporter in Vice Media. What he said might convict him in Canada of terrorism crimes.

Canadian police wanted copies of the communications. They applied for a production order requiring the reporter to give them the evidence.

Vice Media objected. They fear that people like the terrorist won't reveal newsworthy stories if what they tell reporters becomes evidence against them. Heck, ordinary witnesses might not talk to reporters if doing so puts them on the witness stand. Vice Media asked the courts to set a higher standard for issuing production orders against the press. They said judges should refuse to grant a production order unless the police can prove that a prosecution wouldn't get started without the evidence possessed by the reporter.

No way, replied the judges. R. v. Vice Media Canada Inc., 2017 ONCA 231 The press enjoys the same rights of privacy as the rest of us. A reporter's notebook is no more nor less private than a psychiatrist's notebook, a doctor's chart, or a bank record.

But the judges agreed that a free press protects our democracy. How else can we discover the flaws in the politicians we might elect? How else can we learn of the world around us? They said if there are better sources of evidence out there, then you should leave the reporters alone.

2017.03.26 Sealing Orders - Bikini, Beach Blanket, or Sun Dress?

When police sought a production order against Vice Media Canada Inc., 2017 ONCA 231, they asked for a sealing order, to protect the nature and scope of the police investigation. They also wanted it to protect some information relating to national security, and to protect a witness in the case.

Vice Media challenged the orders. On review, everyone agreed that the information that identified the witness and the national security matters needed sealing up. That part of the sealing order stayed. The judges pointed out that the nature and scope of this investigation was pretty obvious, and didn't need secrecy. But publishing the evidence collected so far could prejudice a jury, if ever a prosecution gets launched. Instead of a sealing order, the judges imposed a publication ban.

In the early stages of an investigation, you often ask for a blanket sealing order. It hides the whole of your beautiful investigation from public view.

But conspiracy theories thrive when government operates in secret. For example, right now, Americans wallow in theories about Obama's secret wiretaps or Trump's secret connections with Russia. Public doubt undermines public trust in government. A justice system which hides from public view raises suspicion.

To retain public trust in the justice system, judges want to protect your ITOs with the least secrecy necessary.  In this case, the judges replaced the blanket sealing order with a time-limited publication ban. A focussed sealing order protected only the most sensitive paragraphs in the ITO.

Your ITO is like a beautiful model - an example of good police work which justifies a search or seizure. The conspiracy theorists are like the guys at the beach who want to ogle her. A blanket sealing order hides her entirely from view like a beach blanket draped around her. The guys are unhappy, and suspect she's ugly: "Did the police cheat?" A focussed sealing order is like a bikini, which reveals all but the most secret things. The lecherous guys may want to see yet more, but most of them understand why they won't. A temporary publication ban is like a sun-dress over top of the bikini. It promises greater exposure, when the time is right.

When you apply for warrants in haste, you usually ask for a blanket sealing order, because you don't yet know which information is sensitive. Later in your investigation, you forget to remove it. If you obtain perpetual sealing orders in every case, even when you don't need them, then you undermine the system you rely on.  Put a sunset clause on the blanket sealing order. Or consider a publication ban instead. Here's the outline of a bikini, a sun dress, and a beach blanket, all in one application:

I provide with this original Information to Obtain, a redacted copy. Subject to further orders of this court:

I made this order up in a hurry. If someone out there has better language to suggest, I might use it in place of this rough draft.

2017.03.25 Detention for Officer Safety - How Much Force?

I missed this decision when it first came out. Better late than never.

2012. Midsummer. 2:20am. St Johns, Newfoundland.

An anonymous caller told 911 of "a male in a black jeep across from the Froude Avenue Community Centre with a firearm, possibly a shotgun or rifle." Froude Avenue is row-housing. Two officers arrived in separate vehicles. They found a lone black SUV in the parking lot. One occupant. One officer recognized him as Mr Squires, 2016 NLCA 54, and knew he was prohibited from possessing firearms.

What would you do?

This officer drew his firearm. He directed the driver to show his hands out the window. He complied. When the second officer arrived, they instructed him to get out, and lie face down on the road. He did. They handcuffed him and put him in the back of a police car. In the SUV, they found a sawed-off shotgun and ammo. The serial number was defaced.

The judges thought the officer went overboard with officer safety. They held that the excessive force violated Mr Squires' right not to be arbitrarily detained.

I dunno. Two years later, police officers in Moncton responding to a similar call encountered Justin Bourque, who shot five Mounties, killing three.

I won't instruct you police officers on how to keep safe out there. I'm a lawyer. I am not an expert on defensive tactics.

But you are.

In the Squires case, the prosecutors unsuccessfully urged the judges not to play Monday morning quarterback. The judges don't get training on how to handle risky situations.

But you do.

You need to know what to do in these situations, and why. Doing the "what" properly protects your life.

But if you can't justify what you did, then judges will limit your authority to act. Like they did in this case. In the long run, explaining the "why" properly protects other officers' lives.

In the court room, many officers make a simple mistake: they identify what they didn't know, instead of what they knew. Ignorance doesn't justify action. For example:

Ignorance justifies nothing Knowledge justifies action
I didn't know why he was there nor what he was doing. The SUV matched the tip. I thought the behaviour - possessing and displaying a firearm at 2:00am in a residential neighborhood - suggested preparation for violence rather than an innocent pursuit like hunting.
I didn't know if there was someone else in the vehicle. I was told of one person, but I could see that the vehicle could hold more people. I needed to get the one person I could see under control and away from the SUV before I looked for others.
I didn't know whether the driver had a weapon. I could see the driver's head, but not his torso. He was in a position to hide a weapon from my view, and aim it at me before I could react.

I don't know whether the officer in Squires went overboard or not. I wasn't there, and I have little expertise. Read the decision and decide for yourselves.

My example explanations may not describe real tactical concerns. But you can use that style to explain the risks to the judge.

The truth is, when responding to such a call, many officers don't think thoughts like the ones in the right hand column. They just follow procedure from years of practice. When they reach the court room, they can explain what they do but not why. During practice, then, discuss the reasons for your tactics. Try using language like the right hand column.

One more thing. Let's think about the point the judges wanted to make. Don't use unnecessary force to arrest or detain suspects. Don't even use unnecessary rudeness even with guilty people. Why? Nasty guys grow nastier when every cop they meet treats them like dirt. Some people, like Bourque, get the idea that cops need killing.

Try not to plant that seed.

2017.03.25 Reasonable Belief - Who wants to Stand on Soft Grounds?

An anonymous tipster said Mr Quilop, 2017 ABCA 70 sells cocaine. A team of police watched him for a couple of days.

They saw him go to a suite connected to another guy that they had reason to suspect dealt drugs. They saw him drive to a house, visit briefly, and emerge carrying something about the size of a baseball in his hand. An hour later, he made a short visit to an apartment, and emerge carrying a small pouch.

So they arrested him, and found drugs, money and cell phones.

At trial, defence challenged the arrest. You can't arrest a suspect unless you believe he's guilty, and the evidence establishes that belief is reasonable. On that legal point there is no controversy.

The team leader saw none of the action. What he knew did not justify an arrest. Defence said he was responsible for the arrest, and he lacked grounds. The team leader responded that he had the authority to stop an arrest, but he didn't decide whether to make the arrest. That was the responsibility of the primary investigator. The court liked that answer.

The primary investigator took responsibility for the decision to arrest. Another officer acted on his direction. That's fine too. But the officer who decides to arrest must have reasonable grounds.

The appeal court found these grounds too thin. They provided reasonable suspicion, but not reasonable belief.

But the cops were right - the drugs were there. Doubtless, the arresting officer felt certain his arrest was justified.

This can happen to you. How do you avoid it?

2017.03.18 Unhappy Juror after the Verdict

After the jury convicted Mr Lewis, 2017 ONCA 216, one of the jurors phoned the defence counsel to complain about what happened in the jury room.

The defence lawyer did a smart thing. He stopped the phone conversation and referred the juror to an independent lawyer.

That lawyer wasn't so clever.

She prepared an affidavit which the juror swore. It complained of aggression, bullying and hostility in the jury room. It complained that one of the nasty jurors told him "the accused was of bad character, likely had a criminal record and was in a gang".

Neither the trial judge nor the appeal court were impressed.

"Section 649 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for any juror to disclose “any information relating to the proceedings of the jury when it was absent from the courtroom.” [The second lawyer] put herself and the juror in jeopardy by filing an affidavit detailing the juror’s complaints about the deliberation process."

Basically, the lawyer helped the juror commit a Criminal Code offence.

I read cases every year in which problems like this arise. What do you do if a juror comes to you, complaining about what happened in the jury room?

The better course of action if the juror has a problem with the verdict is to bring the matter to the attention of the trial judge as soon as possible. Work with counsel.

If a juror comes to you complaining about what occurred in a jury room:

  1. Stop the juror talking about what deliberations. The juror can't tell you anything about the deliberations of the jury.
  2. Keep people safe. The juror can tell you if he or she is in danger, and from whom. They can tell you if they've been threatened with harm, or assaulted.
  3. Get advice from lawyers.
  4. If the juror is concerned about the verdict, bring the juror's concern to the trial judge as soon as possible.

2017.03.18 DNA or DNA+?

Did Mr Lira, 2017 ONCA 214 and his buddy Mr Ismail rob the "Cash in a Flash" store back in November 2010?

Security video showed one of the robbers limped like Mr Ismail, and wore an unusually striped jacket like Mr Ismail. The other one wore tan shoes with red laces, just like Mr Lira. Oh yeah, and down in the boiler-room of Mr Lira's apartment, police found gloves and a balaclava that looked like what the robbers wore. And they had Mr Ismail's DNA on them.

DNA evidence often helps bust bad guys. But don't stop investigating when you get the DNA hit. DNA works best if you can collect independent circumstantial evidence.

Toronto Novembers can get cold enough for gloves and a balaclava. Mr Ismail's DNA on those items doesn't - by itself - lead to conviction. But these officers collected more evidence, which busted both guys.

2017.03.18 Exigent Circumstances Search for Evidence

What are "exigent circumstances"? You stand at the door of a residence, and you want to go in. If you have neither permission nor a warrant, what urgency suffices that you can walk in anyway?

The Supreme Court considered this question in the context of s.11 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which authorizes you to search for evidence:

"without a warrant if the conditions for obtaining a warrant exist but by reason of exigent circumstances it would be impracticable to obtain one."

A woman called 911 using a cell phone. She cried, and complained of injuries. She needed an ambulance. And then the phone went dead. Where was she? Emergency services called the owner of the phone, a mom who had lent it to her daughter. The mom called her daughter's work. Not there. The mom found her daughter's car in the parking lot of the apartment where her daughter's shady boyfriend, Mr Paterson, 2017 SCC 15 lived. Police officers attended. Mom briefed them about the tempestuous relationship her daughter had with the guy. Mom said he had a shotgun. Just before the officers reached Mr Paterson's apartment, they learned that the daughter was in hospital, injured. The officers figured that she probably came from the boyfriend's place. They thought that there might be another hurt person in the apartment.

The manager let them into the building. Nobody answered when they first knocked on his door. The manager eventually supplied a key. When the officers opened the door about a foot, Mr Paterson appeared. The air smelled of marijuana - fresh and smoked. His cell-phone rang non-stop. The officers explained their attendance - looking for the girlfriend. Mr Paterson told police she wasn't there.  Although he gave inconsistent explanations about his girlfriend, he looked fine, and the officers concluded that nobody in the apartment needed help.

So they asked Mr Paterson about the smell of marijuana. He denied it. Then he admitted possessing some roaches. The officers wanted to seize them, but told Mr Paterson it would be a "no-case seizure". Mr Paterson offered to hand them over. The officers insisted on seizing the roaches themselves. Paterson let an officer in, who noticed a bullet-proof vest, guns and drugs.

The officers arrested him, got a warrant, and seized lots of drugs, guns and cash.

At trial, he complained that the police had no authority to enter his home. The officers explained to the court that they entered to prevent him from destroying evidence. Mr Paterson pointed out that the officers intended to destroy the evidence anyway, so nobody should care if Mr Paterson destroyed it first.

The trial judge and the court of appeal found "exigent circumstances" justified the entry. All the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada rejected that finding. Under that section, you need urgency to enter, and "impracticability" to get a warrant. "Impracticality" is not enough. "If the situation was not serious enough to arrest and apply for a warrant, then it cannot have been serious enough to intrude into a private residence without a warrant."

The court was considering exigent circumstances where the justification for entry was enforcement of Canada's marijuana prohibition. Would they rule the same way if life were at risk? No. Where officers' safety was at risk in R. v. MacDonald, 2014 SCC 3, they approved of a warrantless entry.

The court solidly chose privacy over liberty. The "temporary" loss of liberty involved in arresting Patterson for 3 joints is not as important as the privacy impact of walking into his apartment. I throw quotes around "temporary" because I know that search warrants take hours to draft properly.

When deciding whether to admit or exclude the evidence from a future trial, the majority of the court also said that the officers should have known better. They excluded the evidence, and Mr Paterson beat the charges. On that question, two judges dissented. They said that the law around exigent circumstances and no-case seizures was unsettled. Even with the luxury of time, the trial judge and three judges of the BC Court of Appeal agreed with the officer's snap decision at the doorway to enter the apartment. "Wrong" about the law differs from "reckless" about the law.

This decision also answers a technical legal point I've been following for over a decade: does the prosecution need to prove voluntariness of the accused's statements before relying on them in a Charter application? The judges answered "no". You should be glad of that answer. If they had said "yes", your search warrant applications would have become much more complicated.

Interested readers will find that the trial decision describes the facts in greater detail than the Supreme Court's summary.


 Completeness of Investigation

Most police officers feel pressure to move quickly from one investigation to the next. Junior police officers in general duty feel this pressure most acutely.

It's a trap.

When investigating the guilt of the suspect, you should also investigate the suspect's innocence.

Ms Dunkers, 2017 BCCA 120 worked for a charity. She stole $200,000 from them, or so it seemed. The investigating officers received a quantity of documents from the directors. Those documents showed that Ms Dunkers wrote herself a bunch of cheques that the directors never authorized.

Ms Dunkers made some vague remarks to suggest that she covered some of the charity's expenses from her own pocket. These cheques merely reimbursed her for those expenses.

The charity kept files on expenses. It would have been easy to review them at the time of the investigation. By the time it got to trial, those files were packed away in storage.

At trial, defence counsel accused the police of shoddy investigation. The trial judge wasn't impressed by the defence complaint, but nor was he impressed by the police investigation.

They had some idea what Ms Dunkers' explanation was. Why didn't they preserve the documents which related to it?

This idea of investigating innocence arises in every investigation. Whether it's a commercial fraud, a murder, a domestic assault or a shoplifting. Try to get more than the complaint. Investigate innocent explanations, even if the suspect refuses to give you a statement. Does the shoplifter have a receipt? Does the alleged batterer have any injuries? Are there other people who wanted the deceased dead?

What was the result? It's a short decision. If you really want to know, click the link and find out.

2017.03.14 Fentanyl is a Problem in B.C.

Mr Smith, 2017 BCCA 112 sold fentanyl as "down" to an undercover police officer. The officer pursued charges. At trial, Mr Smith's Charter arguments failed, and he pleaded guilty. He had never been busted before. He told the judge that he thought it was heroin, not fentanyl.

The trial judge imposed 6 months jail. The Crown appealed, complaining that BC has the biggest Fentanyl problem in the country, and yet the lowest sentences.

The Court of Appeal agreed this was a problem. Fentanyl is killing people. The judges agreed that the appropriate sentence should be 18 months. But Mr Smith committed his offence when the Fentanyl problem was just emerging. Two of the three judges figured the trial judge wasn't in error at the time, and upheld the 6-month sentence.

If he didn't know, then he might tell his customer it was heroin, and his customer might use too much and die. If you obtain "down" from a suspect, you might ask during the transaction what kind of "down" you're getting.

2017.03.12 Arrest and Search - When to Ask Questions

A security company reported a B&E to police. They could see the intruder on security cameras.

Officers closed in.  One found Mr Bronk, 2017 BCCA 88 walking his dog. The officer asked him who he was and what he was doing. He said he was just sittin' with his dog.

Another officer arrived and detained him for B&E. Quite properly, the officer told him of his right to counsel. Bronk wanted a lawyer. They told him he need not say anything. Thereafter, Bronk said nothing, even when they asked him if he understood his rights.

A police dog searched the area, and found a backpack containing:

An officer asked Bronk questions about the guns. Bronk said nothing. Then the officer told him he could be charged with firearms offences too.

He got the procedure backwards.

Unless there are real safety issues, don't ask your detained suspects about the offence before addressing their right to get legal advice. If you detain or arrest someone for an offence, and then discover a new offence, tell them about the new offence. Offer them access to counsel. Don't ask the suspect questions until after he or she knows about the right to access legal advice and declines to exercise it.

There were lots of other issues in the case. The trial judge convicted. The appeal court ordered a new trial based on procedural problems at trial. But it's worth reading the first part of the case, and asking yourself, "how would I handle this situation?"

2017.03.07 Search Warrant Execution - Mistakes you Don't Want to Make

It started innocently enough, with a tip. Way out in the woods, the police might find a grow operation. Police quietly went way out in the woods, and sure enough, found buildings, a generator, and an odour of growing marijuana.

Experience told them that Chinese or Vietnamese-speaking people probably ran the operation. But no officers in the police station spoke those languages. They obtained arrest scripts in those languages. (Good.)

They got a warrant. (Good.)

They brought a civilian member of the RCMP to participate in the search. He was a "peace officer" for the purposes of serving subpoenas, but not for executing warrants. The warrant made no provision for him to join in. (Bad.)

The civilian member attended for the purpose of taking educational photos regarding grow operations, not gathering evidence. (Bad.)

The civilian member published some of the photos he took of the property and the defendants' cars. (Bad.)

On executing the warrant, one member waited only 15 seconds after the initial knock and announce before he entered a vestibule of the residence. He thought the place looked empty. Weapon drawn, he announced again and waited another 15 seconds before searching the house. (Bad.)

He brought a copy of the search warrant with him. (Good.) He left a copy in the residence. (Good.)

The officers arrested Mr Fan, 2017 BCCA 99 and Mr Guan. They didn't give either of them a copy of the search warrant. (Bad.)

Cell phones didn't work in this remote place.  Police could not offer the prisoners cell phones to call lawyers. They did have a satellite radio in the police car, but allowing the prisoners to use it would require police to put them - unsupervised - in the front seat of a police car, with the key in the ignition. The officers delayed access to counsel until they arrived at the police station. At the police station, their phones could use conference calling features to permit translators to assist the defendants exercise their access to counsel. At trial the lawyers complained bitterly about the delay. The judges weren't deeply impressed, particularly because neither of these guys said they wanted to talk to a lawyer.

The officers seized lots of interesting evidence at the grow operation. They didn't file a report to a justice (Form 5.2) until 2 weeks after the deadline. (Bad.)

Luckily for the officers, the trial judge didn't find a pattern of flouting Charter obligations, and some of the violations did not strike the trial judge as particularly serious. They admitted the evidence, and the charges stuck.

For example, the civilian member entered no parts of the property that were particularly private, such as the house. He published only a couple of images, and those were of relatively non-private things, like the exterior of a vehicle.

And the officer who entered the residence too quickly found it was empty. His haste harmed nobody.

I suspect that the care that the officers took in bringing translations of the Charter rights to the scene impressed the judges. It set a tone that the judges liked.

The case could have turned out differently. This case offers lots of reminders of things you can forget in the heat of an investigation:

  1. Peace officers execute warrants.
  2. Warrants permit you to intrude on privacy. Publishing what you find magnifies the intrusion.
  3. Bring copies to give to the people affected by them.
  4. If you suspect you'll have language difficulties with the people you arrest, prepare for it.
  5. Knock, announce, and wait.
  6. Promptly report to a justice what you seized. Form 5.2 matters and will bite you if you forget it.

2017.02.18 Video-Recording Witness Statements - Not Just Children

You likely know that video-recording children's statements can result in the video becoming part of their evidence at trial. It started years ago with sexual offences, but Parliament broadened the section to make it work for all witnesses under 18.

It also works for people with mental and physical disabilities. s.715.2

Mr Osborne, 2017 ONCA 129 and his circle suffered developmental delays and mental disabilities. He told one of them that he intended to kill his exgirlfriend. And he did. At trial, the friend could not remember the conversation, but could remember telling the truth to the police. Was his video-recorded statement admissible?


This section applies more broadly than just young folks with intellectual challenges. And it applies to all crimes, not just murder and sexual offences.

Aged victims often deteriorate after a crime. Video-record their statements when possible too.

2017.02.16 Police Powers - Exercise them Accountably

If a guy gropes a woman's breasts, and pulls her shirt so that he can peer at her breasts, we call it sexual assault.

Cst Khan, 2017 ONCA 114 said it was a search incidental to arrest, to ensure that she carried no weapons.

To be fair, he just busted the woman for buying cocaine. But the way she remembered it, he seemed more interested in flesh than weapons.

The trial judge believed the woman. Khan lost his job and his reputation.

When you exercise powers of arrest, you do what would otherwise be called an assault and kidnapping. Use those powers respectfully, and accountably.

If you read her description at the beginning of the decision, you may get ideas on good and bad search procedures.

The remainder of the decision discusses a technical legal issue. Most police won't find it interesting.

2017.02.10 Search and Seizure - Asking Questions

When investigating others for drug offences, police noticed Mr Saciragic, 2017 ONCA 91, and started watching him.

In October, they saw him engage in two open-air transactions with strangers. He handed something to someone, received something in return, and drove away. After the second transaction, they arrested him, and found he had received a ring from a jeweller. But it sure looked suspicious.

The following April, police officers noticed him engaging in counter-surveillance efforts, when driving. He drove to an apartment building, and then drove away to meet with someone in a lonely spot. Mr Saciragic gave the other guy a box. Police closed in. Both guys fled, but police caught them. The box the other guy got from Saciragic contained a kilo of cocaine. Saciragic had keys, and key fobs which might operate the gate to the underground parking at the apartment building.

Officers hurried back to the apartment building, working off the theory that it was Saciragic's stash house.

The key fobs kept a digital recording of when they had been used to enter the building. Police showed the manager the key fobs, who accessed the information in them, and told the police they were registered to apartments 304 and 1107, and had been used in the time frame when Saciragic came to the building. Which apartment was the stash house? They asked the manager to show them security video to identify which apartment Saciragic attended just before the drug transaction. The manager refused: in the absence of a warrant, the apartment privacy policy prevented him from turning over security video to police. But the manager did tell police that a person matching the appellant’s description had exited the elevator on the 11th floor during the relevant time frame, and shortly thereafter returned to take the elevator down to the parking garage.

The police tested one of the keys in the door of unit 1107. It worked. They entered to clear the place of people. One officer pulled back a shower curtain and found lots of cocaine. They pulled out, and got a warrant. With the warrant, they got damning evidence.

The trial judge concluded that the first search violated Mr Saciragic's s.8 rights because the police fears that someone inside might destroy evidence were based only upon speculation and not evidence. (The appeal court judges didn't really address whether this was or was not a proper case for an exigent circumstances search.)

Defence complained that the police violated Mr Saciragic's privacy by getting digital information from the key fob. The judges all disagreed. This differed from searching a cell phone because the key fob contained such minimal information about Mr Saciragic. Defence complained that by looking at the security video and then telling the police what he saw, the manager violated Mr Saciragic's expectation of privacy, and because police asked him, he acted as their agent. Even if he did act as their agent, the judges concluded that Mr Saciragic enjoyed no reasonable expectation of privacy over the information:

" intimate details of the appellant’s life were revealed by the provision of the information that, on a single occasion, the appellant exited and re-entered the elevator at the 11th floor. This information did not yield any information about the nature of the appellant’s activities in unit 1107, or even whether he used unit 1107 as a residence. Similarly, no intimate or biographical details were revealed by the fact that the fob he used when police observed him enter the parking garage was assigned to unit 1107."

 The judges also found that the manager did not act as an agent of the officers.

With the information police lawfully obtained from the manager, they had enough to justify the issuance of the warrant. The second search was lawful. Mr Saciragic's conviction stuck.

I find this case interesting on several levels:

2017.02.06 Search and Seizure - Warrant Drafting

Police information systems contain data about criminal investigations and whether charges were laid. Other information systems record whether charges stuck.

Before applying for warrants, officers routinely consult police databases, and record in their applications what they find.


Convictions impress judges. Acquittals generally do not.

An officer investigated a grow op operated by Mr Paryniuk, 2017 ONCA 87. He wrote 45 pages justifying why a justice should permit police to search the place. He consulted a police database, and recorded in the ITO incidents in which police charged Mr Paryniuk with drug offences.

The ITO didn't mention that courts acquitted Mr Paryniuk of each one.

Judges hate that. The ITO looked more compelling than was justified. It makes the applicant seem deceitful.

What saved this officer was truthfulness. The ITO did not pretend that the previous incidents led to conviction. It explained what source the officer turned to, and that the suspect was "charged" or "involved". An experienced justice would know the difference between those words and "convicted".

Routine police work relies on routine use of police databases. But judges care more about convictions and acquittals. For a judicial application, complete your computer research by turning to a court database.

2017.02.04 Search incidental to Detention - Asking Questions for Officer Safety

This one matters. It may well go to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even before they rule on it, you should think about the ideas it raises.

Mr Patrick, 2017 BCCA 57 drove an SUV at 4:30am on a dark residential street. A lone female officer noticed that the licence plate matched one involved in an identity theft. She pulled it over. It contained four large men. One looked beat up. Another was unconscious, for reasons nobody explained. She asked for vehicle registration. She received an empty plastic envelope. Although the occupants spoke politely, the officer called for backup.

The men identified themselves. Computer checks suggested were involved in drugs and other crime. The three passengers raised violence warnings.

One of the occupants gave police a cell phone. On the other end of the line was a woman who claimed to be the owner of the SUV. She gave her name and date of birth. The officer found the phone number of the victim of the identity theft, and called it. A different woman answered. The officer figured that someone was lying to her.

When backup arrived, she detained everyone so that she could investigate their fraudulent possession of the SUV. Mr Patrick appeared to fiddle or fumble with his seatbelt. The officer told him to keep his hands where she could see them. He kept fiddling. Another officer entered the vehicle and yelled at him to put his hands where they could be seen.

When they got Mr Patrick out of the vehicle, she noticed a large bump in his clothes, just under his right shoulder. The officer asked:

"Do you have something on you?"

Mr Patrick patted the bulge.

The officer asked what it was.

He replied "a shotgun".

It was, indeed, a loaded sawed-off shotgun, which became the subject of charges.

Defence argued that:

Trial judge agreed, and excluded the evidence of the shotgun.

The Appeal Court came to a different conclusion.

Safety Search on Every Detention?

You don't get to search for weapons every time you detain someone. You need reasons to fear that the suspect has things that could hurt you, and might use them against you. You can take all of the circumstances into account. You don't need to wait for the suspect to take the first aggressive step before this power triggers.

But if asked in court why you searched, you need to explain sufficient reasons that the judge will understand why the risks were real. The trial judge complained that officers described their safety concerns only in general terms.

In my experience, police officers often express their fears in the negative: "I didn't know if he had any weapons" "I didn't know what he was going to do next." An absence of information does not give you grounds to search someone.

You can do better. Try explaining the risks in positive terms. Rather than describing what you didn't know, identify the risks you did know about:

Questions You Can Ask During a Pat-Down

The Court of Appeal held that you can ask questions during a pat-down search, but you should take care how you ask them.

"In my view, questioning a detainee about to be frisk searched as to whether they are in possession of anything that might cause the searching officer injury is minimally intrusive search. In some respects, it is less intrusive than a physical pat-down search. I would hold that narrowly tailored questions of this kind motivated solely by safety concerns are permissible." [my emphasis]

With the benefit of this hindsight, was the officer's question "narrowly tailored" to identify items that posed police a risk? The court ordered a retrial. At that trial, defence will argue "Do you have something on you?" could be interpreted to mean "Do you have anything illegal in your clothing?" Therefore, the question isn't "narrowly tailored" to address officer safety.

This argument would be much harder to make if the officer had said "I'm going to search you now for weapons, and anything that could hurt me. Do you have anything on you?"

What questions do you ask during a pat-down search? Do they invite responses about offences, or do they focus specifically on officer safety? Do you want to change your standard wording?

Note that the suspect has no obligation to answer you. Don't arrest someone for obstruction of justice just because they didn't tell you about the needles in their jacket.

Note as well that the suspect's remarks about the weapons you find will not be admitted at trial. After detention, you must deal with rights to counsel. If you ask questions and get answers before solving lawyer issues, the trial judge won't admit the answers for proof of the crime.

2017.04.05 Right to Counsel after a Detention - How Fast?

An officer arrested Mr Patrick, 2017 BCCA 57 for possessing a sawed-off shotgun (see above). Even though Mr Patrick wanted to talk to a lawyer right away, she didn't let him call a lawyer from the scene, using a cell phone. She took him to the police station.

The trial judge thought the officer flagrantly violated Mr Patrick's rights. The Court of Appeal wasn't so sure.

Section 10(b) of the Charter, requires you to give a suspect his legal rights "without delay". But the courts find that you may delay that access to counsel where circumstances so require.

That doesn't mean you can always delay access to counsel until you reach the police station. If access can be given at the scene of arrest, without risk, then handing the suspect a cell phone to use in the back of a police car may be appropriate.

But many prisoners can abuse their access to a cell phone.

Some scenes are too chaotic to permit you to give that access: Accident scenes. Feuding neighbors.

If you have a reason specific to this prisoner or this situation, then you can delay his or her legal calls until the situation is under control.

2017.02.04 Charter Rights of Third Parties

Mr Mauro, 2017 BCCA 45 picked a bad time to crash his Audi. It carried $100,000 worth of cocaine when it hit another vehicle. Instead of worrying about the injured woman in the other car, Mr Mauro phoned his mom, and instructed her to bring his Jetta to the scene. He took a shopping bag out of his car and held it until his mother arrived. He put the shopping bag into the Jetta, and his mom drove it a short distance away.

Police attended to deal with the car crash. The injured woman's husband told the police about Mr Mauro's strange behaviour with the shopping bag.

A police officer questioned the mom. She denied having anything in "her" car. The officer figured she was lying, and cautioned her sternly against public mischief. He told her it would be in her best interests to give him the bag.

He scared her. She gave him the bag.

At trial, Mr Mauro complained that the police searched his Jetta without a warrant, thereby breaching his s.8 rights.

The judges agreed.

Defence complained that the officer detained Mauro's mother without telling her that she could get legal advice.

The judges agreed.

Defence said that the evidence should be excluded.

The judges disagreed.

Mr Mauro had standing to complain about the warrantless search of his car. He didn't have standing to complain about police treatment of his mother. But having established a breach of his s.8 rights, he needed to persuade the trial judge to exclude the evidence. At that stage, the trial judge could consider all the breaches of Charter rights that the police committed during the investigation. Including violations of the mother's rights.

But mom tricked the police into thinking the Jetta was her car. She lied to the police about the object in it. The judges sympathized more with the police than with the defendant. Evidence admitted; drug dealer busted. Thanks, Mom.

You are sworn to protect everyone's Charter rights all the time. Because trial judges can sometimes consider the Charter rights of 3rd parties, when investigating suspects, you need to protect the Charter rights of the people they hang around with.

2017.02.04 Ontario Traffic Tickets - Correcting Mistakes before Filing

Have you ever issued a traffic ticket, and later found you forgot to fill in the year, or the municipality where the offence occurred?

In York (Regional Municipality) v. Wadood, 2017 ONCA 45, court decided that you can correct minor mistakes before filing the ticket with the court.

But don't add an extra offence or change the charge. For that, you'll need to issue a new ticket.

To distinguish between a major and a minor change, you should ask yourself whether the person who received the original ticket would still understand what the charge was about, even though she or he did not receive the correction.

This case applies to the Ontario Provincial Offences Act only. Don't assume the same rules apply elsewhere in Canada.

2017.02.04 The Non-Custodial Interview

Two vehicles raced. One crashed, killing the driver. Police broadcast a plea for the driver of the other vehicle to come and talk to them. Mr O’Leary, 2015 ONSC 1346 aff'd 2017 ONCA 71 showed up at the police station unannounced. An officer asked him why he came. He explained that he responded to the request on the radio.

The officer told him he could get the advice of a lawyer. The officer told him he "may" be charged. The officer told him that he was free to go, and that he did not have to say anything about the crash. The officer never searched him, nor told him where to go (except once when indicating where to sit). He stayed. He talked. His statement convicted him.

He appealed, complaining that the police:

The judges rejected all of these arguments. But there are lessons to learn from them.

Defence counsel asked the interviewing officer to say at what point he had reasonable and probable grounds to believe that Mr O'Leary committed the crime, and complained that the officer should have arrested him at that point.

That's silly. Defendants don't have a Constitutional right to be arrested just because an officer starts to believe in their guilt. You can be completely convinced of a fellow's guilt, and still decide not to arrest him.

I suspect that this police officer may have felt uncertainty on this topic, and tried to duck that question. As a result, he may have looked evasive on the witness stand.

If you decide not to arrest someone, then it's perfectly fine to admit that you had grounds: "Yes, counsel, after your client admitted driving the vehicle I believed that he was guilty. But I had decided not to arrest or detain him, so I didn't."  If counsel presses you, you can respond: "Are you saying I had an obligation at that point to arrest or detain him? I am unaware of any such legal obligation, but I would be grateful for the judge's guidance on that point. I certainly told him of my suspicions and his right to silence. I certainly wanted his side of the story."

2017.01.30 Photography of Suspects

Do you photograph just the face or the full appearance of your suspects?

A couple of guys robbed a convenience store. One wore a mask. The clerk complained to police and described the clothing of the two robbers.

45 minutes later, police apprehended two guys wearing remarkably similar clothing. One was Mr McKay, 2017 SKCA 4. A smart officer photographed all their clothing carefully, and later compared it to security video in the store.

It matched.

Unfortunately, the trial judge mishandled the evidence, requiring retrial. But there wouldn't be a case without the careful documentation of the clothing these guys wore when police found them.

In some cases, you don't care about the suspect's clothing or appearance. But in routine investigations, it's easy to ignore valuable evidence. Did the drunk driver have bloodshot eyes? Sometimes the absence of evidence means something. Did the suspect in a domestic assault suffer damage to his clothing or injuries to his body?

When you need to solve a whodunnit, photographs of your suspect's appearance before and after the event can shed much light on whether you caught the felon.

2017.01.30 Right to Counsel - Reminder to Listen

When you explain the right to counsel, listen to your suspect’s responses, and record them. React when they express any hesitancy.

Mr Dunford, 2017 SKCA 1 drove on a highway, feeling happy that his Canadian immigration papers arrived. Too happy. He ignored some construction road signs for 13km. When some big trucks slowed for a flagger, he overtook them. He was going full highway speed when he hit the flagger, killing her.

Mr Dunford’s mood changed from happy to distraught. He cooperated with the police investigation and gave a full statement. The officer who interviewed him explained his legal rights to him. Mr Dunford said he understood. He didn’t want a lawyer. At the beginning of the interview, “Mr. Dunford indicated that he did not mind going without a lawyer and said he just wanted to ‘get it done’.”

When a suspect declines counsel, defence will look for even the slightest ambiguity. In this case, defence argued that the officer breached Mr Dunford’s rights by failing to clarify. The court responded:

“The police do not have an obligation to respond to a detainee’s misunderstanding of his rights or how to implement them if that misunderstanding is not communicated to the police or if there are no other indicators suggestive of a lack of comprehension.”

So you don't have to read minds, but you must watch to see if your suspect appears confused about his or her rights.

2017.01.20 Search Warrants - Telewarrants - "Impracticable" does not require "Urgency"

I previously wrote about Clark, 2015 BCCA 488, a decision from BC which clarified whether you can rely on the telewarrant process in non-urgent search warrant applications.

You can.

The problem was, judges in other provinces disagreed.

Not any longer.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the BCCA: R. v. Clark, 2017 SCC 3.

In case you missed it last time, here's what I wrote:

During a night-shift, Cst Marshinew finished preparing an application for a warrant to search a residence where Mr  lived. No justice of the peace worked in his vicinity at that time of night. Must he stay up until the morning to apply in person, or could he apply at night by telewarrant?

Defence argued that there was no urgency.  The investigative plan involved assembling the search team in the following afternoon.  Therefore, the police didn't need the warrant immediately.

The trial judge accepted the idea that telewarrants can only be granted where there is a need for the warrant to be issued before a personal application could be arranged.  The appeal court disagreed. At para 68, Frankel J.A. said:
"The telewarrant procedure was designed to make it possible for law enforcement officers to apply for a search warrant 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Whether the application is made in-person or by fax the reasonable-grounds standard must be met before a warrant can be issued.  The impracticability-requirement is concerned with whether it is practicable to make an in-person application at the time the application is brought; it does not require that an immediate need for a warrant be demonstrated."

The judges agree that you should state, in the ITO, the circumstances that make it impracticable for you to appear personally before a justice.  That generally means explaining how you know that no judge or justice of the peace (in B.C., a "judicial justice") is not available.  Some provincial courts like BC issued directives from which you can quote when explaining why a Justice is not available to hear your application in person.

2017.01.18 Night Search

Section 488 of the Criminal Code prohibits searches by night unless there are reasonable grounds set out in the ITO, and the warrant specifically permits the search by night.

This section was intended to protect residents in their beds at night. But the broad language leaves no exceptions. When you apply under s.487 to examine a cell phone or vehicle, in your police station, after 9:00pm, remember to add language to your ITO and draft warrant which jusitifies and permits the search to commence after 9:00pm.

Defence counsel recently argued that this limitation applies to searches under the CDSA. It doesn't. Shivrattan, 2017 ONCA 23.

2017.01.14 Witness Statement or Privileged Information - Confidential Sources

Ms Nissen, 2017 ONCA 10 liked her neighborhood. Everyone got along ... until she hired a different babysitter. The first babysitter was one of the neighbor's boys. When she got another babysitter, the first one got mad. She asked around, and learned that the boy broke into another residence nearby, stole some guns, took them to school and threatened kids. Something had to be done.

She called the police. She wanted to tell them what she knew, but she did not want anyone to know who gave them the information. The investigating officer assured her she could give her information confidentially.

He video-recorded the interview. Her information must have been good. After an investigation, police arrested the boy, and they laid charges. The first officer got re-assigned. Another officer disclosed her statement to defence.

The boy and his parents learned that she ratted him out. The dream neighborhood turned into a nightmare. The and his parents harassed and threatened her.

So she sued the police.

And won.

This decision teaches several lessons:

Documentation: If the first investigator intended to keep her identity confidential, he should have documented it clearly in the file.

Clarity: If he intended that she be a witness, then he should have clarified that with her before taking the statement.

Foresight: Early in an investigation, you want information, but later, you want evidence. Early in an investigation, people often want to complain about a problem, and tell you what they know. Later on, cooperative witnesses become reluctant when they realize that holding the crook accountable means telling the crook about the evidence against him, and who gave that evidence. The police denied promising Ms Nissen confidentiality at the beginning. At the end of the events, she was sure they did.

Balance carefully your immediate need for information against your future need for evidence. Make promises of confidentiality slowly, deliberately and clearly. And document them. In cases where you foresee trouble, you could tell witnesses what they say may come out in court.

2017.01.14 Demeanour in Public

Mr Koopmans, 2017 BCCA 10 tried to kill Mr Martin by shooting him. Mr Martin was the most important witness in the case.

Mr Martin used drugs. During the investigation, he suffered paranoia. He suspected that police were conspiring against him, and told the investigating officer so. Apparently, he also told her that an officer who attended the scene was "dancing and skipping" in front of him. At the jury trial, defence counsel sought to make an issue of this, either to undermine Mr Martin's credibility or to undermine the police in the eyes of the jury.

I suspect that an officer who attended the scene shared a private joke with another officer, unrelated to the investigation. Mr Martin interpreted the officer's antics as malice toward himself.

Even regular folks carry plenty of misconceptions about police. In your work, you tend to meet the people at the margins of society, who have drug addictions and mental disorders. Those folks can easily misinterpret you.

You deal with the misery of broken lives on a daily basis. It's hard to stay compassionate, respectful and professional all the time. To relieve the emotional toll, you need a place to laugh and joke together. If that place must be the crime scene, look around for witnesses and security cameras before you crack a joke or pull a gag.

And don't play with the exhibits.

2017.01.07 Context Evidence

M.B., 2016 BCCA 476 had a teenage problem: she didn't like her boyfriend's previous girlfriend ("C.B."). That girl was pregnant. And she still liked M.B.'s boyfriend ("I.S."). Might the birth of the baby distract the boyfriend from M.B.?

M.B. wrote a text message to the previous girlfriend:

“I hope you know that you’ll get stomped if you come to this school, dirty bitches like you aren’t welcome here”

Did these words constitute a criminal threat?

It all depends upon the context.

In this case, investigators collected all of M.B.'s communications to the ex-girlfriend:

“Cool. You'll have like no friends. Our school is really cliquey and no one likes fat pregnant bitches.”

“Ha ha. Been at my school for three years. I think I know how things go and I bet the kid's not even [I.S.]'s. Lol.”

“Lol cause you're a dunce ha hahahahaha wow. And I said I bet the kids not even [I.S.]’s cause you’re a dirty slut who probably sleeps with everyone just to get attention”.

“fight me?:)”.

“Loool. Scared?”

They also acquired messages M.B. sent to her boyfriend about his old girlfriend C.B.:

“[C.B.]'s so annoying. I'm going to like kick her in the stomach when she moves here.”

“If she wants to fight with me I will own her ass. Just sayin'. You know I don't take people's shit.”

“Ya. So will your kid be when I fuckin' kick [C.B.] in the stomach. Joke.”

“I'm not afraid to hurt her [smiley face] because I’m a heartless bitch, rememberrrrr.”

“Holy tits. Get [C.B.] to stop fucking messaging me or I'm gonna rip her face off.”

“K well blah I’m gunna fucking hurt her.. Dude I can make myself look more preggo then [C.B.] could lol”.

By itself, the disputed message would not prove a criminal threat. But this context, persuaded all the judges that M.B. meant to frighten C.B..

When investigating relationship violence, many investigators focus too narrowly on the last bit of unpleasantness. Without context, it may appear less or more serious than would be revealed by some history.

You want more. Some current communication systems like SMS, voice-mail and Facebook permit you to recover the words exchanged before the final event. Get as much as you can.

2017.01.07 Evidentiary Value of a GPS

In your investigations, if you find an GPS device device, you may get a great deal of information.

I stumbled upon R v Didechko, 2016 ABQB 376 today. The GPS in that case automatically recorded everywhere Mr Didechko went: to the bar; to the place where the hit and run occurred; to his parent's house; and then where he dumped the car. He reported the car stolen, but the GPS showed that he never gave the thief any opportunity to take it.

The trial judge found this evidence pretty compelling.

If you find such a device would produce interesting evidence, then get judicial authority to download it.

2016.12.28 Warrantless Search of a Residence

Mr Reid, 2016 ONCA 944 sat on a toilet in a tiny bathroom in an apartment. He closed the door. His pants were down. A police officer forced his way into the apartment, opened the door, told him to pull up his pants, and removed him from the bathroom.

Mr Reid complained that the police officer violated his privacy. From his perspective, they sure did.

Given the embarrassing circumstances, why didn't the judges sympathize?

He probably argued that exposure when undressed upset him. But perhaps the discovery of 38 grams of cellophane-wrapped cocaine in the water in the toilet embarrassed him more.

It all depends upon the circumstances. Let's look at it from the officer's perspective.

Sgt Dey responded to a 911 call of an assault in progress. When he arrived, he met a woman outside the apartment who told him that Mr Reid, her ex-boyfriend assaulted her, and he possessed drugs, and was breaching his curfew. She said Mr Reid could be found in unit 202. Someone in the lobby told Sgt Dey that a black guy in unit 202 was dealing drugs and "it was crazy up there", with people coming and going from the unit all the time.

These circumstances gave Sgt Dey plenty of reason to suspect that criminal activity was occurring in the apartment, but no lawful grounds to enter contrary to the wishes of the residents.

Cst Dey went to the door, knocked, and asked questions of the woman who answered. She said she needed time to dress. He heard people shuffling around inside. The door opened a bit. She denied living there, and did not know who did. Same with the white guy with her. They said there was nobody else in the apartment.

Cst Dey now suspected an "apartment takeover", and feared for the safety of the lawful residents.

Fear for life justifies entry and search, but only to the extent necessary to resolve the safety concern.

He forced his way in. He looked in the bathroom. That's when he found Mr Reid. And the cellophane-wrapped package of cocaine.

Mr Reid didn't live there. You'll find in the decision lots of discussion about whether he had standing to complain about violations of privacy. But the key to this case is whether the officer acted out of concern for life and safety.

Even though Sgt Dey knew of various crimes that might be investigated, he bore a greater responsibility to protect life and limb. When he acted on that responsibility, he entered and searched lawfully.

Take no liberties with this power. Even when you exercise it honestly, defence will attack you saying that you used this concern as an excuse. (Write a lot of notes afterwards.) Things can go very badly if you use this power to find evidence. Lawsuits. Damages. Not pretty.

2016.12.20 Reasonable Grounds - Can you Trust a 911 caller?

A guy called 911 to complain about two guys carrying handguns at Tim Horton's. He said that he and his buddy were following the car the gunmen got into. He gave vague descriptions of the people, but provided a licence plate. He gave updates where to find the car. He offered to stick around to tell police what happened. Police found the car he described, where he described it. It went 60km/h in a 40km/h zone.

An officer stopped the car.

Would you arrest the occupants based on this information?

These officers did.

They found drugs, but no guns.

One of them, Mr Carelse-Brown, 2016 ONCA 943 complained that the officers lacked reasonable grounds to believe that the occupants committed a crime. The officers knew nothing about the caller, and therefore had no reason to trust him. The officers should have detained the car and investigated.

The judges disagreed. Finding a car that matched the description, location and direction described in the call tended to confirm the caller. The caller seemed willing to identify himself fully by meeting with police.

Because of the high public risk, the court approved of quick and decisive police action. "This was a dynamic, dangerous and rapidly changing situation involving a serious threat to public and officer safety."

Judges might want to to work slower - detaining first and investigating - if the crime complained of did not pose immediate public risk.

2016.12.20 Arrest & Detention - s.10(a)

When you arrest or detain a suspect, you don't need to tell him in precise legal language what offence you're investigating, but he needs to know the extent of his jeopardy. At the early stages of an investigation, you often know little. Based on what you do know, err towards describing the more serious offence. That way, the suspect can get relevant advice.

Mr Moore, 2016 ONCA 964 drove his car into a pedestrian. The pedestrian had been driving, and got out to confront Mr Moore about his driving. The arresting officer told Mr Moore that he was under arrest for dangerous driving. Mr Moore got legal advice from duty counsel. Then the officer told Mr Moore that they were also investigating him for assault with a weapon. Mr Moore wanted legal advice, but could not reach his lawyer. Police proceeded to interview him.

At the trial for assault with a weapon, Mr Moore complained that the officers did not sufficiently advise him of the charges, and that he did not get the legal advice to which he was entitled. The trial judge rejected this, but the appeal court agreed.

The s.10(a) warning tells the suspect what kind of trouble he's in. The s.10(b) process ensures that he can get legal advice relating to that trouble.

If you aim high at the s.10(a) stage, then you need go through the s.10(b) stage only once. If the jeopardy increases, then the suspect needs fresh legal advice.

Don't allege offences for which you have no evidence. For example, don't tell the suspect that you're investigating a "murder" until you have information suggesting that the victim died. But if the victim's condition is critical, then tell the suspect so. And if you give informal information like this, write down what you said. You need to show the court that you really explained to the suspect what trouble he was in.

2016.12.17 Warrant drafting - What to say about Unreliable Sources

When applying for judicial authorization to intrude on someone's privacy, you must tell the judge or justice everything that you know. What do you say about about someone you don't trust?

When investigating a murder, police in Ottawa received a tip that the suspect's father was overheard saying it was better the victim was killed rather than his son. When applying for wiretap, the affiant cautioned the issuing justice “to take a skeptical view of the informant’s information because, to my knowledge, it is second hand information and not direct knowledge.” He aid that this information did “not advance investigators in this case and can only be treated as intelligence…” Although he asked for permission to intercept the father's communications, he omitted this information from his “summary of grounds for belief” in respect of the dad.

The officer had better information to suggest that the suspect's dad knew about the murder. When investigators came asking questions about the murder, the dad lied to police about his son's whereabouts. Shortly after the dad met with other suspects, he drove in a manner that would prevent police from following him.

The officer got the authorization.

The decision doesn't say whether the police busted the suspect for the murder. But the dad's communications revealed him to be dealing in drugs. As a result of the interceptions, police busted him with heroin and lots of cash.

Mr Hafizi, 2016 ONCA 933 persuaded the trial judge that the warrant should not have been granted. The investigating officer forgot to tell the issuing justice that the dad was on bail for drug trafficking charges. His "heat checks" could have been unrelated to the murder.

The trial judge even found that the affiant "deliberately withheld relevant information that would have completely negated the inferences he sought to be drawn by the issuing justice". The court of appeal disagreed with this conclusion too, but agreed that the officer should have included the information about the trafficking charges.

I think that the Court of Appeal liked the caution with which the affiant dealt with the unreliable source information.  It may have helped them conclude that the officer did not act in bad faith.

Beware of leaving information out. Probably, the officer should have included information about Mr Hafizi's outstanding drug trafficking charge.

If you have information you think is untrustworthy, you can say so in your application. That's a lot better than leaving the information out.

2016.11.26 Photo Lineup Procedures & Lineups of Acquaintances to the Witness

Two men attacked Mr Pierre inflicting wounds that nearly killed him. At the scene he said "Carl" or "Carlton" did it. He sank into a coma for a month. When he first awoke, he wrote a name "Karl Atire" on a piece of paper. At trial, Mr Pierre said that was a mistake brought on by medications. He meant Carl Renous.

Police collected photographs of various people of interest, including Mr Pierre's friends. Each face was quite different from the others. The day after he awoke, police showed him these photographs. Mr Pierre picked out Mr Charles, 2016 ONCA 892 as one of his assailants. He later told police that Carl Renous was the other. Defence complained that this did not follow proper lineup procedure.

Bad news: the investigators misplaced the picture of Mr Charles that they used in this lineup. This made for some embarrassing testimony. Good news: the investigators video-recorded the process, showed each picture to the camera. and preserved that video-recording. Bad news: the officers did not give Mr Pierre the standard instructions for a photo lineup. Good news: Mr Pierre claimed to know his assailants.

Later, when less medication flowed through Mr Pierre's veins, the investigators did a fresh photo-lineup process with him, using pictures of people that resembled Mr Charles. He picked Mr Charles again.

Ordinarily, one uses a photo lineup to see whether a witness can distinguish between a suspect and similar-looking people unrelated to the offence. When the witness only met the suspect during the offence, this method discriminates between recognition, and mere similarity of the suspect to the felon.

When the witness knows the felon, this procedure packs less punch: of course the witness recognizes an acquaintance in the photopack.

Because Mr Pierre knew his attackers, the first photopack served a useful purpose - it identified the felon. If he had not known his attackers, it would have undermined any subsequent identification.

Because the officers video-recorded the procedure so well, that one could see in the video what picture Mr Pierre chose. That reduced the impact of the misplaced photo.

That's unusual. No video-recordings I've seen of photo-lineups captured clear images of each picture as the witness examined them. In a recent trial I ran, it would have helped. You might consider reviewing the video quality, camera angle, and presentation methods you use when showing a photopack to a witness.

Regardless how formally or informally you present pictures to witnesses, carefully preserve the pictures you showed. Mark or annotate the ones which the witnesses pick.  Keep the others as well. They are all exhibits. You'll need them at trial.

2016.11.26 Proving the Obvious

In the case of Mr Charles, 2016 ONCA 892, described above, police found cell tower records showing Mr Charles' cell phone travelled to the town where the attack occurred, and returned to Toronto just afterwards.

The decision doesn't explain how police learned Mr Charles' phone number. I suspect that an investigator relied upon hearsay from a police database, or information from an uncooperative or unavailable witness.

At trial, Mr Charles' probation officer testified that Mr Charles gave him that phone number about 2 weeks before the attack. Defence complained that the probation officer was a person in authority, and Mr Charles did not give his phone number voluntarily. The judges sided with the prosecution; but they won't always.

I suspect that the idea of proving Mr Charles' phone number through the probation officer was an afterthought, not a result of considered investigation. I think this because I encountered a similar problem this week, which I solved in a very similar way.

Investigators often work from what they "know" rather than what can be "proved". When the matter comes to trial, the prosecutor suddenly demands evidence to prove things that seemed obvious during the investigation. And at the last minute, sometimes you can't find witnesses to prove the obvious.

If the probation officer's evidence had been inadmissible, I'll bet that the prosecution would have had a hard time linking the phone number to Mr Charles.

If a fact like that underpins the whole case, take time to find admissible evidence to prove it. For example, how do you prove that a suspect used a particular cell phone number?

2016.11.25 Obstructing a police officer by resisting arrest

Some folks use words to tell you that they don't like being arrested. Some use body language. Words of unhappiness do not constitute resistance. At what point does the body language become a crime?

During Mr Kennedy's 2016 ONCA 879 arrest for armed robbery:

One officer also said that Mr. Kennedy tried to pull away.

Did any of this amount to resisting arrest?  The judges agreed: "the offence of resisting a peace officer requires more than being uncooperative: it requires active physical resistance." The pulling away would be resistance. But what about the other actions? Although Mr Kennedy's actions sat "at the very low end of the scale of acts of resistance", these actions constituted resistance. Anything less is not.

You often arrest or detain difficult and impolite people. From paragraphs 31 to 35 this decision reviews a variety of situations in which courts decided what constituted criminal resistance and what did not. Most officers will profit by reading them. I take from these paragraphs that "resistance" involves applying force to the officer, or doing something which requires force or energy which prevents or interferes with the officer's arrest.

2016.11.20 Joint Statements and Instructing Witnesses

Good investigators never take the statements of two witnesses in circumstances where one can hear the other's version of events. It's all too easy to interview several people at once, especially when eyewitnesses feel urgency to report to police what they saw. But it undermines the statement they give together because to the court looks like collusion - each witness learns what the other saw, and may deliberately or inadvertently start to describe the event the same way.

But that's just part of the problem.

Consider the unfortunate case of Ms Clause, 2016 ONCA 859. She invited Mr Martin to her house for a birthday party. It went badly. Other guests beat up Mr Martin. He left the party, but felt so angry, he returned to fight with his assailants. He lost that fight too. And then someone stabbed him in the eye. He and two eyewitnesses said Ms Clause was the stabber.

A jury convicted her, but for various reasons, the appeal court ordered a new trial. One of the reasons involved collusion.

The eyewitnesses were Mr Martin's roommates. Only Mr Martin gave a statement to police around the time of the attack. Their close relationship raised a real concern with the court that they might have deliberately agreed to name Ms Clause, or that by discussing the case, some may have affected the memories of others. The appeal court thought the jury should have been instructed to consider that possibility.

How do you stop eyewitnesses from comparing their recollections with each other? All you can do is ask:

"Before I turn off this recording device sir, I'd just like to ask you one more thing. It sounds like you and your roommate are important witnesses in this matter. Until this case finishes, could you please avoid discussing with her the details of what you saw?"

2016.11.20 Impaired Driving - Screening Devices - Reasonable Suspicion

Although Mr Schouten, 2016 ONCA 872 looked, an officer noticed an odour of liquor on his breath. It was the morning after "a local motorsports event". The officer was checking the sobriety of drivers emerging from the grounds.

Mr Schouten told the officer that he had not consumed any alcoholic beverages for 10 hours, but he could not remember how much, nor what he drank.

The officer believed that alcohol would be eliminated from the body in 10 hours, but because of the odour, the officer demanded that Mr Schouten blow into a screening device.

The screening device read a fail. Later, breath tests showed Mr Schouten still had too much booze  in his body to drive: 120 and 109mg%.

At trial, defence attacked the officers grounds: if the guy looked sober, and last drank so long ago that he would not have any booze left in his body, then it was unreasonable to suspect that he had any booze in his body.

He won at trial. And at the first appeal. But he lost the appeal that mattered.

All three judges in the Court of Appeal agreed: an odour of liquor on the breath of the driver justifies making a screening device demand.

But notice that judges at two levels of court thought otherwise. Some judges sympathized with the defence argument. Those are the sorts of judges who may find other arguments persuasive. Here are a couple of typical arguments, and ways you can investigate in order to answer them:

Investigative tactic
The officer mistook an odour emanting from the car or the clothes of the suspect for an odour coming from the breath.
Take more than one sniff. Distinguish between breath and body odours.
The odour of liquor is subjective - especially when the odour is faint.
Get a second opinion from another officer, especially if the suspect denies consuming alcohol.

2016.11.19 Truck Drivers who Cheat

Mr Bhangal, 2016 ONCA 857 fell asleep while driving a commercial vehicle. The truck drove into oncoming traffic and killed someone.

Was falling asleep a crime? No.

But driving for too many hours without rest is. He faked his driving logs, making it look as if he got enough rest. Investigation into those driving logs discovered that he kept himself awake and driving for way too long before the crash. And a jury considered it criminally negligent to keep driving in that state.

When a commercial truck driver crashes, you might want to examine his log book.

2016.11.15 Murder or Assisted Suicide

Mr Elton, 2016 BCCA 440 stabbed his wife with a bayonet and strangled her. At his murder trial, he said he did so because he honestly believed that she wanted to die, and that she had attempted to kill herself by consuming Valium. He asked the judge to acquit him because if he was guilty of anything, it was aiding a suicide, not murder.

The trial judge convicted him, and the appeal court upheld the conviction.

"Aiding" is merely helping another person to do something, not doing it yourself.

Intentional killing another person is murder. He intended that his actions kill her, and they did. He was guilty of murder.

People often confuse "intention" with "motive". Even if his motive was to help her, his intention was to kill.

2016.11.10 Conversation with Prisoners - Voluntariness

Most police officers turn on a recording device before interviewing a suspect about the alleged offence. That's good, because it provides a complete record of what you said to the suspect. The judge needs that recording to determine whether you put any unfair pressure on the suspect to talk.

If you do that, and you interview properly, then you can expect lawyers to focus on conversation which occurred before you started the recording device.

Mr Carr, 2016 ONCA 837 claimed that during the 2-minute walk from the cells to the interview room, the investigator implied that unless he talked about the offence, he would not get released from custody.  The investigator testified that he usually said nothing while walking a suspect from cells to the interview room, but could not recall if he talked with the prisoner on that occasion.

The trial judge didn't buy Mr Carr's claim, but another judge might. Those brief interactions matter.

Most investigators take care to record their interactions with their suspect. But in my experience, the less an officer participates in the investigation, the less care the officer takes to record his or her interactions with the suspect. For example, the officer who transports a suspect from the arrest to the police station will often turn on no recording device and take minimal notes. When that officer testifies, s/he has virtually no memory of the conversation.

And then the defendant says "that's when the officer told me that unless I explained what happened, I wouldn't get out of jail" or "the officer told me that judges and prosecutors go easy on guys who fess up".

Every officer who interacts with a suspect between arrest and interview is a witness, and must be able to account for their conversation and treatment of the suspect.

2016.11.05 Inspecting Mail

You can't inspect mail in the possession of Canada Post. You can't get a warrant to inspect mail. Canada Post Corporation Act s. 40(3)

What do you do if you think there's contraband in the mail?

Well, there are lots of things you can do. One of them is to involve the authorities at Canada Post. But you must do that carefully.

American law enforcement officials complained to Canadian police that Mr King, 2016 CanLII 11698 (NL SCTD) was selling ephedrine over the internet, and shipping it to the USA. Police investigated, and found some evidence to support this complaint.

In a letter, a Canadian officer asked Canada Post to inspect Mr King's outgoing mail.

That's a problem. You can't search mail. If you direct Canada Post to search someone's private mail, then Canada Post acts as your agent.

The officer realized this problem, and sent a second letter which explained why this exportation was unlawful, and suggested that Canada Post might examine these packages as "unmailable", and if they found ephedrine that they might turn it over to police.The judge still found that the officer turned Canada Post into a police agent, even with the second letter. To this judge, it still looked like the police were telling the postal inspector what to do, and turning him into their agent.

There was a better way to write the letter. In situations like this, your "request" should not read like a command but the humble submission of information.  It should state the grounds which might move the postal inspector into action. But it should leave the decision whether to inspect up to the postal inspector:

Dear postal inspector:

I received the following information, which suggests that Mr King is using your postal service to ship ephedrine to the USA:

I asked a lawyer at the Department of Justice, who told me that doing this is an offence because ... .

I have no authority to search mail in the course of post, nor can I request or require you to search mail on my behalf, and so I make no such request.

Only you have the authority to inspect mail. Only you can decide whether to inspect any of Mr King's mail.

Schedule 4 of the Non-mailable Matter Regulations defines any " item transmitted by post in contravention of an Act or a regulation of Canada." as "non-mailable". Section 4(d) of those regulations require you to deliver such mail to police. If you do encounter this kind of non-mailable matter in relation to Mr King, I would be the appropriate person to contact.

Please contact me if I can be of any assistance.


2016.11.05 Missing Persons Reports

Some "missing person" reports waste your time. And sometimes you meet a killer.

Mr Shafia, 2016 ONCA 812 didn't like his daughters' boyfriends. By disobeying his commands about their love lives, they offended his sense of honour. Other members of his family shared his offence. The four offended ones murdered the girls, and those members of their family who supported them. The victims were bashed on the head, placed in an old car, and pushed into a canal.

Then the four killers went to the police station to file a missing persons report.

Subsequent investigation proved that their reports were false. Their statements became important evidence against them.

Most missing persons reports come from genuinely worried people. But if it turns out that you interviewed the killer, won't you be glad you recorded it?

2016.10.22 Undercover Operations - Police Tricks that Cross the Line

A police investigation into a 2011 murder stalled, and the prime suspect had fled the country. The lead investigator thought that police could intercept his friends discussing the murder with him if sufficient stimulus inspired the friends to call him. Undercover officers would talk to the friends. Because organized drug trade appeared to motivate the murder, the undercover officers pretended to be connected to Montreal drug suppliers, interested in "getting rid of" a "rat" - a witness who spoke to police regarding the murder.

The original plan would have caused no difficulty. The U/Cs would talk to each of the suspect's friends in public places where they could walk away.

Instead, they cornered Ms Derbyshire, 2016 NSCA 67 one morning, and pressed her for information about the murder. To everyone's surprise, she told them how she helped the suspect dispose of evidence and flee the jurisdiction. For the day, the officers controlled her movements: they took her cell phone, and they demanded and received answers.

She was charged with accessory to murder. The case depended upon her remarks to the police officers.

Through her lawyers, she complained to the trial judge that the U/Cs terrified her with implied threats of serious harm or death. In violation of her right to silence, they compelled her to give information against herself. And she complained that the officers' failure to record their conversations with her violated her right to a fair trial.

I find irony in that last complaint. In Duarte, [1990] 1 SCR 30, the court agreed with defence complaints that without prior judicial authorization, covert recording of a suspect's conversations violated his s.8 rights. Now a defendant complains that failure to make such a recording violates her s.7 rights. The judges rejected this complaint.  But the fact that defence argued it suggests that defence counsel value police accountability very highly. You can use transparency as a factor to support the issuance of 1-party authorizations.

The judge believed Ms Derbyshire's version of the events. The U/Cs were controlling and terrifying: the officers extorted a confession from the accused by threats of violence. The judges found that unacceptable, and excluded the confession.

The officers painted a less frightening picture of their interactions. Perhaps a recording of the interaction might have supported their version. But their testimony did not impress the judges. One of the U/Cs did most of the talking; the other seemed to recall very little of the conversation. The two U/Cs and their cover man each described the operation and its purposes in significantly different terms. The planning and execution differed greatly.

This case offers suggestions for all police:

  1. It illustrates a boundary police officers should not cross: don't use threats or violence to extort evidence from anyone - suspects or witnesses.
  2. In court, the testimony of the secondary officer matters as much as the primary officer. Even if you attend in a merely supporting role, pay attention and take notes.
  3. Innovation and flexibility during investigation can harvest good evidence. But know the limits under which you operate.
  4. If you do operate lawfully, transparency protects you. Whenever dealing with important witnesses, record what you (lawfully) can.

2016.10.22 Confessions - Voluntariness - What to Do with a Volunteer

Two cases this week show how judges like it when police treat suspects fairly. Here's the first.

Mr Fernandes, 2016 ONCA 772 walked into a police station and told the clerk he wanted to confess to burning down his mother's house. An officer came to speak to him. Mr Fernandes explained that he was homeless and wanted to go to jail. The officer explained that arson is serious, and punishable by imprisonment. The officer urged him many times to get legal advice, and reminded him several times that he was free to leave at any time. At first, Mr Fernandes refused, but after a while, he relented, and spoke with duty counsel. After that, he confessed.

Because police laid charges, I guess somebody did burn down Mr Fernandes' mother's house.

At trial, Mr Fernandes' lawyer argued that the confession was not "voluntary", for two reasons:

The trial judge agreed, and excluded the confession. Mr Fernandes beat the charge.

The Court of Appeal rejected these ideas. The concept of "voluntariness" protects the suspect from unfair pressures that the police put on the suspect to get him to confess. In this case, the officer didn't cause Mr Fernandes' homelessness. The officer did nothing to coerce or tempt a confession from the suspect. Quite the opposite. This officer put roadblocks in the way.

At first blush, I thought the officer went too far to persuade Mr Fernandes to get legal advice. Mr Fernandes was not detained, therefore section 10(b) of the Charter had not triggered. But Mr Fernandes explained that he wanted to go to jail.  By doing so, he alerted the officer that the usual incentive to remain silent did not apply. By urging Mr Fernandes to get legal advice first, the officer showed the judges that he was not going to take unfair advantage of Mr Fernandes' desperate situation.

The appeal court liked this fair treatment, and ordered a new trial.

2016.10.21 Right to Counsel v. Haste to Test Breath: Getting the Priorities Right

When you make a breath demand of a driver, several obligations trigger.

Which one comes first?

Mr Rowson, 2015 ABCA 354 caused a bad motor vehicle accident. At the scene, officers feared that victims might die. When an officer asked him to blow into a screening device, Mr Rowson wanted to call a lawyer. Knowing the seriousness of the matter, the officer let him talk to a lawyer for a short time before testing his breath. Mr Rowson failed. The officer demanded breath for analysis, and he later blew 117 and 105 mg%.

At trial, defence argued that the officer did not test Mr Rowson's breath "as soon as practicable". Because the officer "searched" Mr Rowson's body contrary to law, the officer therefore breached Mr Rowson's rights under s.8 of the Charter.  The officer should not be permitted to rely upon the "fail" result to justify the breath analysis demand. Defence asked the court to exclude the results from the breath analysis.

The appeal court agreed that the officer breached Mr Rowson's s.8 rights by allowing Mr Rowson to call a lawyer before blowing into the screening device. But they disagreed that the breath tests should be excluded. They sympathized with the officer, who plainly recognized the seriousness of the situation, and properly worried that Mr Rowson should get legal advice.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the Alberta Court of Appeal.

To answer the question I posed, the correct priority of events is:

  1. Breath screen / SFST
  2. Legal advice
  3. Breath analysis / DRE

But judges like it when you really care that the suspect gets legal advice when he faces jeopardy.

2016.10.16 Helping Social Workers Search

Social workers received confidential tips that a child living at the residence of Mr Noftall, 2016 NLCA 48 faced danger because he grew and sold marijuana from that place.

The social workers decided to investigate. But they lacked equipment, skills and training to handle the potentially violent reactions of criminals who lived there. They asked a police officer to accompany them.

Without a warrant, two social workers and cop entered Mr Noftall's place, for the purpose of investigating a child safety complaint. But this cop had experience taking down grow operations. And the place smelled of growing marijuana.

The social workers told Mr Noftall they didn't need a warrant. Mr Noftall took a social worker and the officer to his (small) grow. An insecure rifle hung nearby, with ammunition at the ready.

Mr Noftall complained that the officer violated his rights under s.8 of the Charter. The trial judge figured that because the officer merely accompanied the social workers for their protection, the officer did not breach s.8. The appeal court disagreed: after the officer smelled growing marijuana, the officer should not have "searched" by going to the grow room. Instead, the officer should have compelled Mr Noftall to wait in the kitchen while the officer phoned for a warrant.


Telewarrant: Although the Criminal Code provides for oral telewarrants, you should be very cautious of using them. You get one chance to say everything perfectly. Nobody checks your work. And if your forget to mention something important, things will go badly at trial.

Search: I agree that when you enter a private residence without a warrant and without consent, you must act in accordance with the lawful authority that got you in there. If a situation arises where you have reasonable grounds to believe that evidence of a crime will be destroyed if you do not freeze the scene, or search the place, then s.487.11 applies. You don't need a warrant. But you should limit your warrantless searching to the least necessary. Get a warrant once you get the scene under control.

Despite the breach, the court admitted the evidence. Mr Noftall stayed convicted.

2016.10.16 Prisoners Talk

When police arrested Mr Day, 2016 NLCA 52 for drug trafficking, he shouted out to his girlfriend not to say anything to police. At trial, he testified that he had nothing to do with the pound of marijuana in the trunk of his car, and suggested that maybe his girlfriend put it there.

The judge didn't find his testimony persuasive. What Mr Day shouted to his girlfriend did not easily mesh with his innocent explanation.  And besides, his girlfriend had recently texted him "the bags you gave me are done" and Mr Day replied, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you”.

All too often, prisoners in police custody call out to each other with advice or instructions about what to say during the investigation. Those remarks can make a significant impression on the trial judge, if you take the trouble of writing them down.

2016.10.16 Employees Talk

Ms McCarthy, 2016 NLCA 33 worked in a Newfoundland police station. Posted on the wall in the drug section of her office, she noticed a picture of her cousin.

She warned her cousin that he was being watched. Indeed he was.  But investigators found out that she violated her oath of confidentiality.

She lost her job. She got charged with obstruction of justice. The trial judge sent her to jail. (The appeal court reduced the sentence to a conditional sentence, but only because she confessed, she apologized, and she pleaded guilty.)

Leaks do happen. Beware of conflicts of interest. Supervisors might want to tell this cautionary tale gently, not to threaten staff, but to remind them of the harm they can do to themselves when they feel the improper tugging of family ties.

2016.10.09 Security Video

Security video can prove independent events to a high degree of confidence.  I hope that you routinely look for security video in the area of offences you investigate. Here's a case from earlier this year which illustrates what to do.

Dean Saddleback, 2016 ABCA 204 drove a stolen truck. He took it to a 7-11, where he had the bad luck to be noticed by an off-duty police officer. The officer watched Mr Saddleback get gas, and pay for it inside the convenience store. Because Saddleback looked particularly suspicious, the officer called in other officers. Those officers pursued the truck. Mr Saddleback fled and escaped. The store security video was the only way to prove the driver's identity.

Security video evidence tends to suffer from some routine - and avoidable - flaws. Those problems arose in the trial:

Everything turned out okay. The clerk remembered Mr Saddleback from that day, and was able to testify that the video accurately depicted what occurred when Mr Saddleback attended. The court accepted the clerk's testimony that the video accurately showed what happened when Mr Saddleback attended.

You won't always be so lucky.

2016.10.04 Detaining a Suspicious Vehicle

Cst Vachon-Zee recognized a frequent offender sitting in the passenger seat of a Chrysler Cirrus. He didn't recognize the driver, Mr Mr Ali, 2016 ABCA 261. A computer search reported no concern that the car was stolen. But the officer was suspicious. In his experience, thieves often stole this model of car. He wanted to know what the passenger "was up to", and to check whether the car was stolen. He decided to check the ownership documents.

The car stopped when signalled to do so. An odour of fresh marijuana wafted from the driver's window. The officer arrested the driver, and on a search incidental to arrest, found crack.

At his trial, Mr Ali argued that an officer who stops a vehicle to investigate crime needs reasonable grounds to suspect that someone in the vehicle was involved in crime. The appeal court agreed. If you're going to stop a vehicle to investigate crime, you need more than mere suspicion.

But this officer also wanted to check vehicle ownership documents.  You don't need reasonable grounds to suspect that a traffic safety offence is being committed to stop a car.

Courts call this a "dual-purpose" stop. Defence counsel distrust you when, after the fact, you try to justify a stop as a stop for vehicle safety enforcement. If you find something interesting, they will cross-examine you for a long time.

Therefore, when your instincts tingle, and you want to pull over a suspicious vehicle, think about what you're investigating. If you have solid reasons to suspect crime, pull it over. If you don't have solid reasons, consider whether licencing and registration, sobriety and roadworthiness interest you.

If they do, actually investigate those issues. Make inquiries over the radio or the on-board computer (if you have one). Ask questions about that topic.

By the time you encounter drugs or stolen property, it's too late to come up with excuses for stopping the suspect.

2016.09.30 Disclosure - Confidential Sources - Debriefing Reports and Handler's Notes

Sometimes, confidential sources provide good information. Judges issue warrants and authorizations. Police bust bad guys.

Defence counsel then attack the process by which police obtained the warrants and authorizations: did the officer who applied for the warrants and authorizations accurately describe the reliability of the sources, and the information they gave? Should the officer have mentioned other information which tended to undermine the source's credibility or suggested the warrant should not have issued?

To ask that question, defence counsel ask for documents relating to the information that the confidential sources gave: Source handler's notes, source debriefing reports, everything. "Full answer and defence", counsel cried.

Many judges agreed.  But that risks identifying the confidential source. Some judges assumed that redacting the documents would suffice to protect the identities of the informant.

Today, in R. v. McKay, 2016 BCCA 391, BC's top court responded.

No. Defence is not entitled to everything. Only what's relevant to what the officer knew (or should have known) when he or she applied for the warrant.

No. Redaction does not always protect confidential sources. Little bits of information can burn a source.

Defence is still entitled to disclosure when challenging an authorization or warrant, but they need to show why disclosure of the material may assist in showing that the authorization should not have been granted.

This decision solves some problems in BC, particularly for the RCMP's Human Source Unit.

2016.09.28 Wiretap - Who's a "known"?

When you apply for an authorization to listen to private communications, you must identify an offence, and all the persons you "know" whose communications you have reasonable grounds to believe may assist in the investigation of that offence.

Those people are "knowns". You need to identify them in order to intercept their conversations lawfully. And if you knew about them, and failed to identify them in the application, then even if you do intercept their conversations, the court may exclude the recordings from evidence.

So how much do you need to "know" to make a person "known"?

Two separate teams of police investigated what appeared to be two separate schemes to import cocaine from Argentina to Kelowna, BC. The two teams shared some information. There were enough similarities to raise suspicion that they may be related. It turned out that Mr Montgomery, 2016 BCCA 379 and an associate participated in both. The first operation identified them. Wiretap captured their conversations in the second investigation. They complained that the police should have identified them as "knowns" when applying for the authorization in the second investigation.

The court had no difficulty rejecting this argument. "Known" needs to be reasonable belief, not mere suspicion.

But the test remains slightly weird.  You must have reasonable grounds to believe that "probably", listening to this person's conversation "may" assist the investigation of the offence. The court noted at paragraph 92 the prospect of further litigation on this topic.

2016.09.26 Impaired Driving - Taking Breath Tests "As Soon as Practicable"

"On a dark desert highway, cool wind in his hair," Cst Ferguson stopped a car driven by Mr Prestupa, 2016 SKCA 118. Okay, it was prairie, not "desert". And "cool" understates the chill of Saskatchewan in January. A screening device registered a "fail" when Mr Prestupa blew into it. Cst Ferguson read him a breath demand.

That triggered an obligation to test Mr Prestupa's breath "as soon as practicable". Cst Ferguson's police station lay 75 or 80 km away; other police stations were a bit closer. Mr Prestupa asked the officer to let his parents pick up his car, rather than allow it to be towed. Cst Ferguson agreed. They called his parents. Meanwhile, Cst Ferguson called for a breath technician to attend his detachment to test Mr Prestupa's breath. It took a while for the parents to arrive. He left the scene 47 minutes after the initial stop.

Cst Ferguson drove rather quickly back to his detachment. 75 or 80 km in 33 minutes. Hmm.

Mr Prestupa blew 190 & 180mg%.

At trial, Mr Prestupa complained that the officer did not test his breath "as soon as practicable": there were closer police detachments to which they could have gone.

The trial judge agreed, but the appeal courts didn't buy it. The phrase is "as soon as practicable" not "as soon as possible".  And besides, there was no evidence that the other detachments had breath-testing equipment and breath technicians at the ready.

Several ideas emerge from this case:

  1. The phrase "as soon as practicable" means you need to account for how you spend your time after making a breath demand.
  2. The judges did not mind Cst Ferguson's decision to wait for Mr Prestupa's parents to take his car. But beware. If another officer could have watched the car, Cst Ferguson should have started driving.
  3. The judges liked how Cst Ferguson called for a breath technician before departing for the police detachment. "A stitch in time saves nine." A little forethought can save lots of time.
  4. "As soon as practicable" does not mean "as soon as possible". Although the judges noted Cst Ferguson's quick trip back to the police station, I would caution against high-speed driving. In B.C., I don't think s.254(2) of the Criminal Code authorizes police officers to drive at emergency speeds for the purposes of breath testing.  See s.122 of the Motor Vehicle Act, and the associated regulations.
  5. After demanding breath, ask yourself "what can I do to get the breath testing done promptly?" The defence argument in this case failed not because it was okay to take Mr Prestupa to a detachment far away, but because defence did not show that a closer detachment would have tested Mr Prestupa's breath sooner.

Many tasks will slow you down. Impaired driving prosecutions can fall apart if you:

2016.09.10 Jordan - Right to a Trial within a "Reasonable Time"

Some of you encouraged me to write about the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decision R. v. Jordan, 2016 SCC 27.

It discusses trial delay - the legal wrangling, adjournments and court scheduling conflicts that seem to have no relation to police work.

Why did these police officers care? Because all their hard work will go to waste if the court throws out a case that took too long.

What can police do about delay? Doesn't it all happen at the Crown office and the court house?

There are some things you can do little about. If the government won't pay for prosecutors, judges or courthouses, then delays may mount.

But the courts often blame police for delays. Usually for late disclosure.

Some officers find it difficult to sympathize with this criticism. Collecting, vetting and packaging every little bit of paper, digital information, photograph and video is a colossal chore. It's boring, and the little bits of information that you miss are usually unimportant in the big picture.

If you feel that way, try imagining that you were about to buy a house. An expensive one. You will commit all of your money, and you will sign up for a large mortgage. This purchase decides your finances for the next 20 years. On the day of the deal, the vendor hands you a folder containing 1,000 pages of documents including maintenance receipts and at least 30 reports from property inspectors who examined the house in the last 5 years. Would you sign on the dotted line without reading the folder? At least 30 purchasers paid for property inspections, and walked away without buying this house. Are you sure about this?

That's how defence counsel feels when "new disclosure" shows up just before trial. They don't want to start the trial until they know everything about the case. The diligent defence lawyer will ask for an adjournment. Judges sympathize. They grant the adjournment. And they blame police for failing to provide the disclosure in time for trial.

Clever defence counsel capitalize on this sympathy. I've seen cases where the late disclosure of a single page of trivial information resulted in an adjournment. And the court blamed the delay on the police.

Delays lead to stays of proceedings.

What can you do?

General duty officers

Plainclothes officers


Upper Management

Disclosure ain't the only problem you can fix.

When a warrant issues for an accused, when the charge is laid, or later, make real efforts to find him. And if your first efforts fail, make sure you follow up regularly. If the guy leaves Canada, even failure to pursue extradition promptly can count against the state.

This post is long, but I did not explain the Supreme Court of Canada's decision. I don't think that fine points matter much to police. In a 5:4 split decision, the majority concluded that a judge should generally kill a prosecution if the Crown or court delay it more than 18 months ... unless there's a good explanation.  Cases in superior courts get 30 months. The minority predicted problems with this one-size-fits-all approach. The judges all agreed that delay is a bad thing, and that the prosecution and its partners bear the burden of bringing accused people to trial promptly.

The court breathed new life into the right to a speedy trial. Defence counsel will look for reasons to blame you for delay.

2016.09.09 Impaired Driving - Oops, I forgot to Read the Breath Demand at the Scene

Section 254(3) requires you to make breath demands "as soon as practicable" after you realize that the suspect's ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by alcohol.  Some officers arrest the suspect but forget to read the breath demand at the scene. By the time they reach a police station, it's no longer "as soon as practicable".

This case suggests an interesting solution.

Mr Guenter, 2016 ONCA 572 crashed his car into another car, injuring the people in it. He had been drinking. The attending officer got distracted by the chaos of the accident scene. At the scene, he arrested Mr Guenter for impaired driving causing bodily harm, but he only got around to reading the demand at the police station.

Lucky for him, the breath technician had his own way of dealing with things. The breath tech always:

The court found that the investigator's breath demand was not made "as soon as practicable", but the breath technician's demand was. The breath tech learned from the investigator that the suspect drove while impaired, and then promptly demanded breath samples. That (new) demand lawfully required Mr Guenter to blow, even if the first one didn't.

About 2 hours after the crash, Mr Guenter blew 170mg%. The evidence was admitted, and Mr Guenter was convicted.

Does that mean every breath technician should now emulate this breath technician in every case?

I don't think so. Not only must the demand be made as soon as practicable, but you must test the suspect's breath as soon as practicable too. In ordinary cases, where the first breath demand was properly made, defence can argue that making another one wastes time.

If your colleague arrives at the police station, and then remembers to read the breath demand, you can save his or her investigation by asking your colleague for the evidence and information which suggests that this person - within the preceding 3 hours - operated or had the care or control of a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. If the answers satisfy you, you can make the demand "forthwith or as soon as practicable". After your demand, let the suspect speak to counsel again if desired.

Until I read this decision, I would have doubted the lawfulness of this procedure. If you use it, expect prosecutors and defence counsel to challenge your actions. Bring them copy of Guenter, 2016 ONCA 572 to explain yourself.

2016.09.09 Statements of Suspects - Compelled, Elicited or Volunteered?

In some provinces, including Ontario, when drivers crash their cars, legislation requires them to tell police what happened when police ask. But the right to silence means that suspects of crimes can't be compelled to explain their involvement. This case explored the interaction between right to silence, statutory compulsion, and a police officer's duty to hold off eliciting evidence before a detainee got his right to counsel.

Mr Guenter, 2016 ONCA 572 was drunk. His car crashed into another car injuring its occupants. But who drove his car?

The first police officer to attend asked Mr Guenter if he was hurt.  Mr Guenter replied "No. My heart hurts because I feel bad for hitting this vehicle with a family in it."  After an officer arrested him for impaired driving causing bodily harm, he banged his head on the hood of the cruiser. He later blurted out - of his own accord - things like "drank too much J.D.”; “I smoked weed”; “a couple of beers, it’s Christmas". " I made a mistake. I was at a Christmas party. He shouldn’t have turned in front of me."

He also said: "Shoot me in the back of the head.” “Shoot George too. He ran into the bush.” “I should have never let him drive.” At trial, Mr Guenter testified that another guy named George drove the car.

His earlier comments proved he drove. Were they admissible?

His lawyer argued that legislation compelled him to tell the officer about the accident. Therefore, admitting these remarks would violate his right to silence. But the prosecution pointed out that the officer asked about his health, not about the accident. The judges agreed.

His lawyer argued that after the arrest, everything that Mr Guenter said before he got to talk to a lawyer should be excluded. The prosecution responded that after detention or arrest, police must hold off eliciting evidence from the suspect. That's what these officers did. They asked no questions. They weren't trying to get evidence out of him before he spoke with a lawyer. Mr Guenter volunteered these remarks of his own accord. The judges agreed.

Mr Guenter was convicted.

In B.C., the legislation no longer compels drivers to give explanations for accidents to the officers who attend. Before detaining a BC driver at an accident scene, you can ask questions, knowing that the answers won't be excluded from trial.

In other jurisdictions, officers need to gather information from other sources than the driver.

At trial, defence will challenge your version of how these conversations went.

When a detained suspect blurts out information of his or her own accord, the investigating officer rarely has a notebook open and a pen in hand. A subsequent decision dwelt upon the value of contemporaneous audio and/or video recording during these dynamic interactions. I agree, but with caution. Making lots of audio or video recordings means storing, disclosing and transcribing lots of recordings too. It's the way of the future, but I suspect it costs more than most proponents realize.


 Deals with Devils - Accomplices who Rat Each Other Out

Some drug dealers complained to police of a couple of home invasions committed by men with guns.


Police suspected two buddies Keenan and Kelman, both drug dealers and users. One day, when they were both in custody, police made them an offer: lead us to the gun used in the first robbery, and you'll get bail. They accepted the deal, produced a gun, and - with the consent of Crown - they got bail.

A little while later, police told Keenan that he would soon face charges over the first home invasion. Keenan gave a statement. He told police he was the getaway driver. He named Kelman and his friend, Mr McGown, 2016 ONCA 575 as the robbers who entered the house.

All three got charged. Keenan, the rat, pleaded guilty, and made arrangements be sentenced on the basis of his police statement. Kelman also pleaded guilty and got sentenced.  McGown wanted a trial.

At the preliminary inquiry, Keenan testified for the Crown. He gave a new version.  He wasn't the driver, his good buddy Kelman was.  He went into the house with McGown.

Keenan got sentenced as the driver. He even got a reduced sentence because he "cooperated" with the state.

At trial, Keenan testified for the Crown. He was the only witness who could establish that McGown participated. He gave much the same story as he told at the preliminary inquiry. Defence pointed out that his "cooperation" with the Crown involved admitting that he didn't take full responsibility at sentencing for what he did. He was a liar that manipulated the system. That undermined his credibility.

His good buddy Kelman testified for the defence. Kelman agreed that he, Kelman drove the car. Indeed, much of his story matched Keenan's version. But Kelman said that his good buddy McGown wasn't even there. Oh, no. Some other dude he didn't know participated in this crime. A stranger. Some friend of Keenan's.

The judges believed Keenan the rat, not Kelman. McGown went down. But only because other evidence confirmed that Keenan told some truth, and there was no evidence to suggest that Keenan was protecting some third party.

Beware of rats. Their statements sound great. Confirm everything that you can. When these folks reach the court room, their testimony often changes. Sometimes dramatically. Don't offer them special deals, immunity or reduced sentences without Crown's blessing ... and lots of documentation. Because at trial, you will look like a fool if it appears that the rat duped you.

2016.09.08 Limits of General Warrants - Complying with Legislation

Can a judge authorize a police officer to disobey legislation? In Whipple, 2016 ABCA 232, the Alberta Court of Appeal seemed to suggest that a judge may issue a General Warrant which authorizes a police officer to disobey s.10(a) of the Charter. I expressed some discomfort with that notion. Just a few days earlier, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that a General Warrant can not authorize a police officer to disobey s.503 of the Criminal Code. This decision makes more sense to me.

Even though the court held that the officers breached Mr Poirier's, 2016 ONCA 582 rights, you gotta give them some credit for trying to do this one correctly.

Reliable confidential sources told police that Mr Poirier sold drugs. Whenever he wasn't selling, he stored them in his rectum. The investigating officers obtained a general warrant which authorized the officers arrest Mr Poirier and to hold hold him for as long as it took him to defecate all the drugs out, and to watch him and control him so that he did not conceal or destroy the drugs during this vigil.

It took 43 hours.  In stages separated by many hours, Mr Poirier eliminated crystal methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and Dilaudid.  Each time something came out, he told the officers that was everything. And then later, more came out.

Defence complained that this was not a search, but a detention. Section 487.01 - the General Warrant section - empowers a judge to authorize police to "...use any device or investigative technique or procedure or do any thing described in the warrant that would, if not authorized, constitute an unreasonable search or seizure in respect of a person or a person’s property".  The court disagreed: it's a search that takes time because of the passive nature of the searching: the police just watch till nature takes its course.

After an arrest, s.503 requires you to bring your prisoner before a justice "without unreasonable delay" and within 24 hours (unless no justice is available).

Defence complained that s.487.01 does not empower a judge to authorize police to disobey the Criminal Code. The court agreed. Reasonably promptly after the arrest (not at the 24-hour mark), the officers should have brought the prisoner to a justice of the peace, and asked the justice to order that Mr Poirier be detained in their custody to complete their execution of the General Warrant.

But the officers made some other mistakes, which resulted in Mr Poirier's acquittal.  See below...

2016.09.08 Reasonable Search of a Prisoner - Privacy, Comfort and Health

As described above, a judge authorized police to perform a "bedpan vigil" on Mr Poirier, 2016 ONCA 582. Mr Poirier excreted lots of drugs. But there were some problems.

The officers in this case used the General Warrant legislation in a creative way. The court approved. But the officers got distracted by the complications of executing it. Perhaps Mr Poirier was not a congenial guest. It looks like the officers lost track of some basic principles of handling prisoners. We can learn much from this investigation.

2016.09.03 Knocking on the door of the Suspect - the "Implied Invitation"

Will Duval wrote me: "Here's a good suggestion for your website..."

He's right, damn him. I spent many hours thinking about what to write about this difficult case.

In their homes, people enjoy a right of privacy from the government. As a police officer, you can't enter or search people's houses except with lawful authority, such as a warrant, exigent circumstances, or permission from a person who lives there.

But can you knock on the front door?

Long ago, some officers received a tip that Mr Evans, [1996] 1 SCR 8 grew marijuana in his home. Because other investigative approaches failed, they knocked on his door and explained that they were there to investigate a grow at the residence. Oddly enough, when Mr Evans opened the door, they smelled green marijuana, so they arrested him, and took down his grow-op.

All the Supreme Court judges agreed that in the absence of contrary indications, an officer may assume that every resident of a home offers an invitation to people to come and knock on the front door (or ring the doorbell) to communicate with the residents.  But four of the seven judges added a limitation: this "implied invitation" invites only communication, not searches for evidence against the residents. Although these officers wanted to talk to the occupants, they also wanted to sniff the air when the residents opened the door. That intention turned the door-knock into an unconstitutional search.

So, if you suspect someone committed a criminal offence, and you approach his home with the intention of gathering evidence of the criminal offence from a resident there, then you breach his s.8 rights when you knock on the door (and may breach his rights even when you set foot on his front walk).  But you may lawfully knock on the door if all you intend to do is communicate with the resident. You can knock and talk even if you suspect that the resident committed the offence you're there to investigate. You can even talk about the offence.  And if you discover evidence during this conversation, it's all good.  But only if your initial intention was just to talk.

Mr Rogers 2016 SKCA 105 backed his car into another vehicle, causing negligible damage. A witness thought he was drunk, and called the licence plate in to police. An officer went to Mr Rogers' apartment to investigate. When the officer knocked on the door, Mr Rogers opened it.  He looked, sounded and smelled intoxicated. The officer arrested him, and demanded breath samples. Mr Rogers blew 270mg%.

Depending how you look at it, the legal trouble began when the officer knocked on Mr Rogers' door, or it began in court, when the officer answered questions about what he intended to do when the door opened:

So your purpose in attending at Mr. Rogers’ home was to determine whether he had been the person driving, correct?
And more importantly, whether his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired.
And you would agree that the observation made of a suspected impaired driver’s appearance, demeanour, speech, and actions are critical pieces of investigation in an impaired driving investigation?
Yes. They are what form my grounds.
But going back to my question, you knew that the minute you opened the door you would be able to gather evidence regarding Mr. Rogers.
Not necessarily. The minute he opened the door is when I would start observing to determine whether or not I had ... any grounds.

If the officer's only purpose in knocking had been to speak with the occupant to find out who drove the car, then the knock wasn't a search.  But the Court of Appeal judges agreed that this officer's knock was a search because he intended to secure evidence. And because no judge granted a warrant to the officer permitting him to do that, this was an unlawful search. Evidence excluded. Drunk driver acquitted. The judges explained that they simply followed the law set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Evans.

If you think the legal trouble started with the officer's admission that he was looking for evidence, then your solution to this conundrum would be to lie in court when answering questions about your motives when you knocked on the door. I disapprove. Not only would this be perjury, but any good cross-examiner will reveal it to be perjury. Goodbye career.

I think the legal trouble started at the door, not in the court room.

The court itself noted that in similar circumstances, courts reached the opposite conclusion, for example: Petri, 2003 MBCA 1; Grotheim, 2001 SKCA 116.

After reviewing many similar cases, they commented:

"There are numerous other applications of the implied licence to knock principle from all levels of court. Often, the line between when the police intend to investigate a crime and when they intend to secure evidence in relation to it is not easy to perceive..."

Where's the line? Talking with the residents is okay -- even about the offence.  Knocking on the door in the hope of seeing evidence like symptoms of impairment isn't.

You have a general duty to investigate, but the courts chastise the officer who does try to gather evidence at the door. How do you avoid this problem?

By respecting the privacy of the home. If all you're allowed to do is talk, then you might deliberately limit your ability to see evidence in the residence and smell the breath coming from the suspect.  You might knock, and then move as far back as possible while still being able to talk.  Fully explain why you came, and invite the suspect outside, or ask for permission to enter.

This approach raises two problems:

  1. Tactical disadvantage: an officer who blinds himself to dangers in the residence will one day be blind-sided.
  2. The suspect has control: a cagey drunk will slam the door in your face. Unless you have other leads or lawful authority, your investigation may stop there.

I don't think the law requires police to render themselves vulnerable to attack. At the door of the suspect's residence, keep watching for dangers, and routinely position yourself for safety.

I do think that the law limits your investigation. In some cases, exigent circumstances may justify entering the residence to preserve evidence.

But not in this case. No doubt, with every minute, Mr Rogers' liver was busy removing alcohol from his bloodstream. Definitely, evidence was disappearing. But you can't rely on "exigent circumstances" to enter unless you know that an offence probably occurred. This officer had only reasonable suspicion.

In s.487.11, the Criminal Code permits you, in exigent circumstances, to search for whatever a search warrant will let you find, "if the conditions for obtaining a warrant exist". Search warrants require probable grounds. You can't use this power if you have only a reasonable suspicion. And besides, a search warrant won't authorize you to sniff a suspect's breath nor watch his "appearance, demeanour, speech, and actions".

I do not expect the Supreme Court to clear this up any time soon. In Evans, the court divided 4:3. In the similar case of Feeney, [1997] 2 SCR 13, they divided 5:4. In MacDonald, [2014] 1 SCR 37, 2014 SCC 3, they divided 4:3. In each of these cases, the court considered how a police officer should behave at a suspect's door. In each case, their conclusion conflicted with previous case law.

Thank you, Will Duval, for pointing this case out.

2016.09.03 Evidence offered by Hysterical Witnesses

What evidence could have helped determine whether Mr M.T.L. 2016 YKCA 11 raped his friend's fiancee?

The complainant spent an evening drinking with her friend, Mr M.T.L.. Through the evening, she sent text messages to her fiancee to join them. At the end of the evening she slept at Mr M.T.L.'s place. That's where the sex happened. But did she consent? Afterwards, she sent a text message to her fiancee about the encounter. She went to a hospital, where a doctor found redness and soreness in her genitals. She declined a formal sexual assault exam. After she complained to the police, Mr M.T.L. allegedly sent her a message threatening to commit suicide unless she told everyone that she lied.

The investigating officer never examined her cell phone. According to her, she offered her cell phone, but the police weren't interested. According to the officer, the complainant told him that she was using a "loaner" cell phone which was now wiped and returned to the phone company. No messages remained.

The trial judge convicted Mr M.T.L..  The appeal court ordered a new trial, worrying that perhaps the complainant wasn't reliable.

Cell phones pack a great deal of information these days. In a case such as this, the content of the text messages before and after the incident could probe the complainant's feelings toward her fiancee: if they showed that she loved him that night and wanted him to join them, then she wouldn't likely cheat on him. The timestamps could help determine when the important events occurred.

I can't say from reading the decision what really happened with the cell phone. If the complainant was right, then the cop missed some important evidence. If the cop was right, then the complainant destroyed important evidence.

Lots of complainants have told me over the years that they offered additional evidence to the investigating officer, but the officer wasn't interested. When I asked officers to follow up, I receive mixed results. Sometimes the cop missed key evidence. Sometimes, it's useless information.

It's easy to understand why an officer might discount their ideas. Distressed people often don't think straight, and often express themselves badly. Some are crazy, and some just sound crazy. It takes time and patience to distinguish between the two.

In this case, the completeness of the investigation mattered to the appeal judges. You may be called upon to explain why you didn't follow a specific investigative lead. This case illustrates how important that explanation may become to the final result.

I think of it this way:

  1. Your investigation isn't complete until you have canvassed every reasonably available source of information.
  2. Your report isn't complete until you have documented the whole of the investigation (including the dead ends).

If you ignore a potential source of evidence, someone may ask you why.

2016.08.22 Detention, Arrest, and Inventory Search of a Vehicle

When can you search the contents of a vehicle?

Ontario's courts developed rules around inventory searches, based upon their legislation. The rules in other provinces differs, according to the applicable legislation available to them.

In two decisions, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently reviewed this area of the law.

Late at night, police officers driving an unmarked car watched Mr Dunkley, 2016 ONCA 597 visit a couple of gas stations. He went into the kiosk several times, he bought nothing, he came out. He drove away fast, through a MacDonald's parking lot, as if to shake someone following him. He drove to another gas station, and went into the kiosk. The officers told him to stop and tried to talk to him, but he fled, discarding his keys. He left the car unlocked. (He explained that he thought these plainclothes officers intended him harm; he did not know they were police.) An officer searched it for identification. When he found a firearm, he applied for a search warrant before searching further. The trial judge found that the search for identification was lawful, and even if it wasn't, the officers had authority to do an inventory search when they impounded this abandoned car; they would have found the gun anyway.

The court of appeal disagreed. The officers reasonably suspected that Mr Dunkley was up to no good, but did not have sufficient grounds to arrest him. Reasonable suspicion authorizes you to stop someone, and search for officer safety. But this empty car posed no risk to them. Reasonable belief - that the suspect probably committed crime - permits you to search the suspect and his vicinity for evidence. The court found that the officers' observations did not meet this higher standard.

Finally, the court considered whether the officers could do an inventory search. Section 221 of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act permits officers to impound "abandoned" vehicles. But the court observed that nothing about the way this guy parked his car indicated an intention to abandon it. The officers made him run away. This was not an "abandoned" car. Lacking any justification for the search, the court excluded the evidence.

A police officer saw two cars racing. He pursued one of them - an Acura - into a dead-end street. He found it parked in a driveway at a different address than the registered owner. A guy in an oversize white shirt walked away from the vehicle. Another officer found Mr Ellis, 2016 ONCA 598 nearby, wearing an oversize white shirt. Mr Ellis lived at the same address as the registered owner of the vehicle.

Because the computer system flagged Ellis as a gang member, an officer patted him down for weapons. Something in his pocket felt hard. The officer asked him to empty his pockets. Ellis had a cell phone and keys for an Acura. The officer returned them. After discussing these details with the first officer, the second officer arrested Ellis.

Police then searched the car for identification of the driver, and found a handgun.

The court approved of the pat-down search of Mr Ellis. There were grounds to detain, and reason to fear that he might harm a police officer.

The court held that the police lacked authority to search his car as part of the arrest. Although the officers had reasonable grounds to arrest him for "careless driving", the other preconditions for search incidental to arrest did not apply. Mr Ellis had put 50m between himself and the car - it wasn't close enough to be in his vicinity at the moment they arrested him. And there was no reason to believe that searching the car would discover evidence of careless driving.

On the other hand, the court found that this car was "abandoned", because Mr Ellis parked it in a stranger's driveway, in a position likely to block access to vehicles. An inventory search was inevitable, and the police would have found the gun. The court upheld Mr Ellis's conviction.

For Ontario officers who discover a recently-driven vehicle, this pair of decisions sheds a little light on whether it is "abandoned": if the car will be a nuisance to other drivers, then it may be abandoned. If it's parked normally, it may not. But other factors may lead judges to other conclusions.

For all officers, these decisions illustrate the limitations of search incidental to detention and search incidental to arrest. But I would add some cautions. The Ellis case does not establish a 50m limit for the "vicinity" of the arrest. Time also matters. Suppose you pull over a vehicle for an offence, and the suspect flees. If you chase him and catch him 100m from the car and arrest him, I think you can search his car incidental to arrest. But if you find him 30 minutes later, only 25m from the car, you can not.

Both cases emphasized the narrow scope of a search for officer safety. In the Ellis case, the suspect's gang associations justified police fears. The judges liked knowing that the officer who searched for officer safety returned the items immediately. This proved that the officer was not snooping for evidence. In the Dunkley case, they rejected the idea that the officer searched the empty car for officer safety: it posed the police no danger.

2016.08.09 Evading s.10(a) - Lying about why you stopped a target

Even though s.8 of the Charter guarantees everyone's privacy, judges can authorize you to intrude into the privacy of the targets of your criminal investigations.

But can you stop someone without telling them the truth about why? Section 10(a) of the Charter requires you to tell people why you detained or arrested them. But sometimes, you need to withhold the truth. Is there a provision of the Criminal Code which permits this?

Albertan police were investigating Mr Whipple, 2016 ABCA 232 and others for drug transactions. They didn't want their targets to know that a judge granted a wiretap authorization in respect of their communications. From intercepted communications, the officers knew that Mr Whipple would transport methamphetamine. They obtained a General Warrant under s.487.01 to search Mr Whipple's car. That order authorized the police to mislead Mr Whipple - if necessary - as to the reason for stopping him.

The officers actually found Mr Whipple committing a traffic infraction. They didn't need to mislead him about the reason for the traffic stop.  And they did, quite quickly, inform Mr Whipple of the drug search too.

Defence complained anyway.  They pointed out that s.487.01 creates exceptions to s.8 of the Charter, but not to s.10(a). The trial judge agreed, and ruled that the general warrant was invalid.

The Court of Appeal disagreed.

They observed that the general warrant authorized police to search Mr Whipple's car, which is a matter under s.8 of the Charter.  The fact that it authorized police do the search in an unusual way did not invalidate the general warrant.

The way they saw it, the interference with Mr Whipple's s.10(a) rights was necessary to the execution of a justified general warrant.

I dunno.  My gut urges caution. Because s.487.01 only permits police to do what would otherwise be an "unreasonable search or seizure in respect of a person or a person’s property", I still don't think that s.487.01 can be used - by itself - to authorize police to lie to detainees about why they were stopped.

In this case, if there was any authority to permit police to lie about the reason for a detention, I think it came from s.186 - the wiretap provision. If the wiretap operation required ongoing secrecy to achieve its purpose, then a judge exercising the wiretap powers could make a specific order pursuant to s.186(4)(d) ("... such terms and conditions as the judge considers advisable in the public interest") which would protect the secrecy of the authorization.

But I can think of situations in which no existing legislation could help.  Suppose a confidential source tells you that right now, a terrorist is driving to a daycare to blow up children. The source begs you to lie to the suspect about your reason for stopping him. She tells you that his colleagues know what he's going to do today, but only she knew which daycare he decided to hit. You find the suspect's vehicle on the road one block away from the daycare. It commits no traffic violations. Of course you stop the van. What do you tell the driver?

I think you should lie. The suspect has a right, protected by s.10(a) of the Charter, to know why you stopped him. You would violated that right. But the source has a right, protected by s.7 of the Charter, to life.

I think that Parliament should pass legislation by which a judge may authorize a police officer to lie about the reason for a detention. This case illustrates why such legislation makes sense. I also think that there should be an exigent circumstances exception.

I thank Cst. S.D. Smith for bringing this decision to my attention.

2016.08.05 Possession of Data in a Computer - Breadth of Search

Last year, I wrote about this case.  Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada weighed in. Although the court overturned the Alberta Court of Appeal's rulings, my suggestions for police remain the same. I repeat them here, so that you can see why.

Mr Villaroman 2016 SCC 33 brought a Macintosh computer to a computer store for repairs.  Technicians found child pornography in the computer, and called the police. Police seized it, got a warrant and searched it for child pornography. By examining the child pornography files, an expert found reason to believe that someone using the one account on the computer used Limewire - a file sharing program - to download them from the net.  Links in the file system suggested that someone viewed the files too.  The two people who lived with Mr Villaroman did not put the files there.  But was it Mr Villaroman?  The trial judge thought so, and convicted him.  The appeal judges weren't so sure.  The one account had no password. They said.

"If there had been evidence that only the three people lived in the residence, and that the computer never left the home, we might have had less concern. Had there been that evidence and also further evidence that other persons did not come and use the computer, nor use the room where it was located, probably we would not interfere with the conviction. Other possibilities would then be too remote. But there is no such evidence."

The Supreme Court of Canada found that the Court of Appeal erred in their re-assessment of the case by speculating about innocent explanations for the evidence in the computer. But the court also commented that a different trial judge could have acquitted Mr Villaroman based on the same evidence.

Even after reading the trial decisions (2012 ABQB 630, 2013 ABQB 279), I can't be sure I know just how much evidence the investigators actually discovered which linked the accused to the pornography.

It's clear that they sought judicial authority to search the computer for child pornography.

With the benefit of hindsight, I see that searching for probative non-criminal data might have helped.  For example, I don't think they looked for emails with similar date stamps as the pornography.  If Mr Villaroman emailed his friends on the same nights as his computer downloaded child pornography, one may infer he did the downloading.

Can you snoop through the emails?  Only if your warrant authorizes it. In Fearon, 2014 SCC 77, the court emphasized that a lawful searches should pursue only relevant evidence, and they want clarity about the breadth of an officer's search.  Therefore, your ITO should spell out what kind of data you want to snoop through and why it's relevant.  And the warrant should explicitly grant you that authority.

Playing armchair quarterback, I suggest that the investigator in this case could have sought authority "to search emails, stored communications and documents in the computer bearing date stamps close in time to the date stamps associated to the child pornography for evidence of who operated the computer at the times when the child pornography was downloaded, viewed or accessed."

2016.07.19 Search & Seizure - Reasonable Expectation of Privacy - Text messages in Other People's Phones

Mr Winchester bought guns. Legally. 45 guns over 6 months. Police received information that he sold them on the black market, and got search warrants for several places, and got Mr Winchester's cell phone. In it, they found text messages that proved Mr Marakah, 2016 ONCA 542 committed firearms offences. The trial court found that the police violated Mr Winchester's s.8 Charter rights during their search. Mr Marakah asked the trial judge to exclude the text messages from his trial because he still enjoyed an expectation of privacy over them. Even though the police found them in someone else's phone.

The trial judge found that Mr Marakah had no expectation of privacy in the text messages in Mr Winchester's phone. Even though police searched Winchester's phone unlawfully, the court admitted the text messages from the phone into Mr Marakah's trial.

Two out of three appeal court judges agreed with the trial judge. They rejected the reasoning of the BC Court of Appeal in Pelucco, 2015 BCCA 370, which reached the opposite conclusion in a similar situation.

But those Ontario judges didn't say what you wanted them to say: "A person who sends text messages to another person always loses any expectation of privacy in those messages." See para 78. An explicit arrangement or guarantee of confidentiality between sender and recipient may create an enforceable expectation of privacy. But that's the exception in most cases, not the norm.

Therefore, in Ontario, most of the time, the sender of text messages doesn't enjoy an expectation of privacy in them after they arrive in the recipient's phone.

When courts of appeal disagree with each other, the law becomes confused.

Because people use text messaging so much, on phones and other communication technologies, you want clarity.

Because one Ontario judge disagreed, Mr Marakah can, if he wants, require the Supreme Court of Canada to hear his appeal.

2016.07.16 Executing DNA warrants

Take a picture

Why would an officer take DNA samples from a suspect? The answer is easy: to identify the suspect. I suggest that if you do not know the suspect very well, you will want to take a photo of the suspect's face at the same time as you take the samples, so that you can remember whose DNA you got.

In a recent case of mine, a police officer in one city assisted another officer in another city by executing a DNA warrant on the prime suspect. The officer who executed the DNA warrant had no other involvement in the case, and met the suspect for only a few minutes.

Two years later, at trial, the officer couldn't remember the face of the defendant. Considering the purpose of DNA comparison, this tended to defeat the work he did taking the sample. Fortunately, he did take care record information from suspect's driver's licence, and compare the photo on it with the face of the suspect.

Can you take a picture of the person from whom you take the bodily samples? Defence counsel might argue that doing so violates s.8 of the Charter. "If it ain't in the warrant, you can't do it." I observe that the Criminal Code makes no provision for photographing he suspect at the time you take bodily samples. Instead, s.487.07(3) requires you to ensure that the suspect's "privacy is respected in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances".

I think you can. In B.C., the case of Multani, 2002 BCSC 68, the court approved of officers taking photos of drivers they detain for traffic offences, for the purposes of identifying the driver afterwards. I think the same logic applies to the execution of a DNA warrant.

Indeed, I would go further, and suggest that you can video-record the execution of a DNA warrant for the purpose of proving compliance with the terms and conditions of the warrant. Police did this in an old case Kanuma, 2002 BCSC 355

Read the warrant

I learned recently that RCMP recruits learn at Depot how to take bodily samples for DNA analysis. The RCMP here in BC use a kit, which contains a checklist to follow. I suspect that someone trains them to follow the checklist.


Checklists can make junior officers complacent.

When you execute a DNA warrant, your authority comes from the warrant, not the checklist. Read the warrant. If the warrant tells you to something different from the checklist, then obey the warrant.

2016.07.16 "'Ello, 'ello, 'ello. What's all this then?" - Detention at the earliest stage of the investigation

Angel Daley, 2016 ONCA 564 tried to pawn jewellery at Money Mart. Her friend Sharon Stockton, waited outside in Angel's car. The clerk the store noticed that Angel's jewellery resembled stolen jewellery depicted in a recent police flyer, so she called police.

The police who attended tried to figure out whether Angel's jewellery was the stolen jewellery depicted in the flyer. Meanwhile, they wouldn't let her go. Therefore, they "detained" her. For approximately 40 minutes.  Without telling her of her right to counsel.

From her, they learned about her car, waiting outside. An officer spoke with the friend, and saw more jewellery in Ms Stockton's possession that looked like stolen jewellery. He arrested her, searched the car, and found Angel's fentanyl, and a rather nasty knife.

At trial, Ms Daley's lawyer asked the judge to throw out the evidence: 40 minutes of waiting demands an explanation; and detentions trigger rights to counsel. They complained as well of an unlawful search.

The trial judge admitted the evidence, but the appeal court threw it out. Nobody explained why looking at some jewellery took 40 minutes. In the absence of an explanation, the detention was arbitrary. The officer should have given Ms Daley her right to counsel. (The judges agreed that the search was lawful.)

 We all know that you can overlook important evidence when you move too fast. This case suggests that you can also cause trouble by going too slowly while a detained suspect waits. I suspect that the officer stopped Ms Daley from leaving the store, and then slowly and methodically figured out what the problem was. If it looks like a detention will take a significant time, then you should talk to the suspect about lawyers. If it does take a long time, you may need to explain why.


Production Orders for Stored Text Messages

Over the last several years, judges reached different conclusions on whether you need a production order or wiretap to compel a telephone company to disclose text messages stored in their servers. Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal weighed in. Here's the current list, by province:

I think this issue is now pretty much decided: production order, not wiretap.

Similarly, a search warrant is an appropriate tool to search cell phones for text messages. Desjardins, 2014 QCCS 6790

2016.07.05 Agents - Lawful Justification

 - Role of Police

Last week, the British Columbia Court of Appeal published a decision it made 6 years ago. R. v. Lising, 2010 BCCA 390. I don't know why it took so long. It remains interesting reading for officers who deal with confidential sources and agents.

For 10 years, Michael Plante collected debts for the Hells Angels. In 2003, after an arrest for extortion, Plante decided to work for the RCMP by infiltrating the Hells Angels. The RCMP paid him handsomely: over $1M over several years. All he had to do was help the police bust the gangsters ... while committing enough crime that the gangsters would continue to trust him.

A cop named Bob Paulson oversaw the project. He saw a problem. The public pays police to prevent crime, but this project involved paying a guy to commit crime. That participation would make the police parties to Plante's crimes. Canadian law requires police to obey the law, not break it. Police officers don't get a mulligan just because they're trying to catch bad guys.

Fortunately, a couple of years earlier, Parliament passed legislation enabling specially-designated officers to authorize a person to do things that would otherwise be crimes. s.25.1.

If you use the legislation, then these acts aren't crimes, so I'll refer to them as "acts".

How does that work?

Investigative plans take time to develop. While working with police, Mr Plante intimidated witnesses, ripped grows, and trafficked in large quantities of drugs and firearms. It took many months for police to prepare a Letter Of Agreement (LOA) which set the ground rules for Mr Plante's immunity from criminal prosecution. (There were several LOAs after that.)

Although s.25.1 and similar provisions in the CDSA justified some of Mr Plante's "acts", others were crimes.

The investigating police were parties to the crimes. Defence applied for a stay of proceedings.

But Bob Paulson did some things the court liked.

The handlers did some things the court liked.

Mr Plante did some things the court liked.

These things resulted in:

Even though the police and Mr Plante did not comply immediately nor completely with s.25.1, the court denied the defence application, and the Hells Angels who were convicted at trial lost their appeal.

And Bob Paulson got a promotion.

Despite its age, I think this decision remains worthwhile reading for police officers. It reminds officers of highest principles: police enforce the law, but are not above the law. This applies as much to traffic cops as organized crime investigators. And it demonstrates practical steps you can take when working with nasty people.


2016.07.04 Search and Seizure - Warrant drafting - Avoiding "Step 6


A confidential source told police that Mr Reid, 2016 ONCA 524 kept firearms in a specific storage locker. Relying almost entirely on what the source said, police applied for, and obtained, a warrant to search that locker. They found guns. Lots of them. Stolen only a few days earlier.

What the police found suggests that this source enjoyed a position very close to the criminals. Obviously, this source would not want to be identified.

At trial, defence applied to quash the warrant.

As required by the case of R. v. Garofoli, [1990] 2 SCR 1421, the prosecution had to disclose a copy of the original application. Before doing that, the prosecution redacted (deleted) from the application everything that tended to identify the source.

This source was too good - almost everything s/he told the police tended to identify him/her. After redaction, what remained could not justify the issuance of the warrant. Mr Reid would win the application, and beat the charges.

The prosecution moved to Garofoli's "Step 6": the prosecution prepared a summary of the confidential source's information. The summary contained too little detail to identify the source, but just enough to explain why a warrant could issue. The prosecution gave that summary and the original unredacted application to the trial judge, and asked the judge to determine whether the summary fairly explained what the confidential source told police. The judge compared them, and found the summary accurate. The prosecution gave the summary to defence.

Working from the summary, defence complained that the original application failed to spell out what criminal record the source had, whether the source faced outstanding charges, and whether the source had previously given information to a police force. Defence complained this was essential information which the first justice needed in order to decide whether to trust the source and issue the warrant.

These are fair complaints, but they didn't succeed because of the very detailed information this source gave. In other cases these issues may make or break the case. When relying on confidential informants, search for this information, and include it as an appendix. Here's what you can write to achieve this:

I searched for source A's criminal convictions in CPIC [and any other database available to you], and I attach as Appendix A1 the complete list of what I found.

I searched for source A's outstanding charges in [whatever database is available to you], and I attach as Appendix A2 the complete list of what I found.

I investigated source A's past performance in giving information to police. I understand that 7 times in the past 5 years, source A gave police information about criminal activity. Further investigation confirmed the source's information 3 times. The other times, the source's information could neither be confirmed nor contradicted. I attach as Appendix A3 more detailed explanations of the information this source provided, and how further investigation confirmed it.

Naturally, the prosecution will redact the appendices. A1 and A2 tend to identify the source. But what remains in your application shows the trial judge that you disclosed the information which the first judge needed to assess the credibility of your source.

Similarly, you can summarize the source's information in your application, and include the details for the prosecution to redact. Suppose your source says "Yesterday, Mr Reid took me to Vigilant Custodian Storage, opened locker 13 and showed me 45 guns." That information identifies your source. You may summarize it, and include the detail for redaction:

Source A reported that Mr Reid possessed firearms in locker 13 at the premises of Vigilant Custodian Storage within the last 14 days. Source A claimed s/he obtained this information not by gossip, but from her/her own observation or by hearing or overhearing the words of a person who claimed direct knowledge. Specifically, Source A said: "Yesterday, Mr Reid took me to Vigilant Custodian Storage, opened locker 13 and showed me 45 guns."

Plainly, the emphasized portion must be redacted. What remains is true, but does not point so directly to the identity of the source. It leaves open the possibility that the staff at Vigilant Custodian Storage saw the guns, or that they or someone else overheard Mr Reid and the source talking. And the remaining information explains why a warrant should issue to search the locker.

Why should you bother preparing the "step 6" summary when applying for a warrant? After all, the prosecution can do it at trial.

Step 6 is controversial. In Mr Reid's appeal, he tried to argue that it's unconstitutional. Step 6 is tricky to do. If you lay the groundwork when you apply for the warrant, then the prosecution stands a better chance of success at trial.

2016.07.02 Exigent Circumstances Search

A woman called 911. She said she heard her neighbours arguing.  The male threatened to kill the female. The female cried and pleaded, “please don’t kill me.” She heard loud banging and crashing coming from their apartment.

Officers attended, and knocked at the door. No answer. After they knocked more, a woman answered. She refused to open the door. She spoke to someone behind the door, but she told police she was alone.

What would you do?

These officers feared that a man posed the woman serious risk of harm which they felt obliged to prevent.  They sought permission from superiors to break in. Before that occurred, the woman stepped out of the apartment, unharmed. Without her permission, the officers entered and searched. They found Mr Lowes, 2016 ONCA 519 hiding under a bed. They found drugs.

The trial judge excluded all the evidence. He reasoned that the officers could have assured themselves of the woman's safety by questioning her, by questioning the neighbor who made the 911 call or by getting a warrant.

The appeal court ordered a new trial.

The neighbor's information gave reason to fear for the woman's safety.  The woman's apparent lies at the door about who was home gave the officers reason to fear that the man was controlling and directing her.

In my opinion, the trial judge correctly identified an important principle: even in exigent circumstances, where life and limb are at risk, you should not search private places if there are reasonable alternatives by which you can ensure people are safe. But the trial judge's proposed alternatives in this case weren't reasonable. The woman already told lies; questioning her wasn't a good way to ensure her safety. The neighbor was in a poor position to assess the woman's safety. And the officers lacked sufficient grounds to justify any warrant. The appeal court found that entry and search was the reasonable response to the situation.

Therefore, this case provides some guidance for first responders who encounter similar situations all too often.

I particularly liked how these officers sought a second opinion from a senior officer before entering. In the excitement of the first response, it's easy to act without second thoughts.

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