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July 10, 2008

SCC finds use of drug-sniffing police dogs for random searches violates Charter rights.

Two recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions found that police dog sniffing is a search under s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and police must have reasonable suspicions to conduct a search. Section 8 provides protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The first case, R. v. Kang-Brown, involved a program in which police monitored public transportation terminals for criminal activity. When an officer approached a man who was suspiciously staring, a drug-sniffing dog indicated there were drugs in the man’s bag. Justice Louis LeBel held that the use of a drug-sniffing dog constituted a search and there was no authority for the search because the officer did not have reasonable and probable grounds for the suspicion. According to LeBel, “the creation of a new and more intrusive power of search and seizure should be left to Parliament to set up and justify under a proper statutory framework.”

In R. v. A.M., a principal invited police to search for drugs at the school on a randomly selected day. Students were confined to classrooms while a drug-sniffing dog searched their backpacks. Justice Ian Binnie said “This was a warrantless, random search which was not authorized by either the criminal law or the Education Act.” The decision pointed to the private nature of a person’s backpack, purse or briefcase and the need for reasonable suspicion of illegality to justify a search.

For more information on Criminal Law or Youth Justice check out the following publications:

The Law, The Police and You: Your Rights When Questioned, Detained or Arrested

Defending Yourself in Provincial Court

Youth Have Rights!