Toronto police continue practice of illegal strip searches: report

Mar 21 2019, 5:00 pm

Ontario’s independent monitor of police has released a report that looks into the practice of strip searches by law enforcement.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director’s report, Breaking the Golden Rule: A Review of Police Strip Searches in Ontario, lists a series of recommendations to standardize police procedure around the practice, while also drastically lowering the frequency that they occur in the province.

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“There is broad consensus and judicial support for the principle that strip searches
should not be done as a matter of routine,” writes Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director, in the document.

“Each year, well over 22,000 strip searches are conducted by police officers in Ontario, the majority by the Toronto Police Service.”

McNeilly says there are circumstances where strip searching suspects under arrest can be justified. However, a clear line between when they should and should not be practiced is paramount due to the searches’ “level of intrusiveness and the impact they can have on individuals.”

The legal status of strip searching suspect is well established in Canada after a 2001 Supreme Court of Canada decision (R. v. Golden) clearly defined what amounts to a strip search and the circumstances that allow them under the law.

“It is extremely concerning that almost two decades after the Golden decision, police continue to conduct strip searches in violation of the law,” said McNeilly, in a press release. “This comes at a high cost to those directly affected by humiliating and intrusive searches and to the justice system, especially where unlawful searches result in the exclusion of evidence or the staying of charges.”

The report also quotes the court’s Goldie decision, which refers to the practice as “inherently humiliating and degrading.”

The report makes 50 recommendations about how to reform the practice.

Many consists of calls for clarity in procedures for law enforcement, as well as a more effective and efficient means of documenting when they actually occur. The report notes that a majority of police services were unable to provide all of the information requested by the OIPRD, due to the fact that while “strip search information may be recorded in officers’ notebooks, the information is not inputted into a computer system.”

Police departments were also found to not be recording what types of searches they were conducting in all cases. A stumbling block when it comes to understanding the efficacy of particular searching methods.

“Some police services did not adequately, or at all, document in their notes or otherwise, the types of searches conducted of suspects or accused upon detention or arrest, the grounds for strip searches, the number of times items were found as a result of a strip search (as opposed to another type of search) or complete descriptions of the items found,” says the report.

Another recommendation relates to the debate of keeping race-related statistics of those subject to the searches to “enable an evidence-based evaluation of the role that race plays in decisions to conduct strip searches.”

According to the press release, the OIPRD has also released another report, that outlines a total of 89 strip search cases found by the courts to be in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Today’s report is meant to be a launching point for reform in the provinces police force.

During a press conference, McNeilly took time to praise the measures already taken by law enforcement to deal with the problem.

“Some services began to re-evaluate their existing procedures before my review was done,” the OIPRD quoted him on Twitter.

The organization also drew attention to the Toronto Police Department’s efforts to introduce alternative search methods, specifically a body scanner pilot project, to be used in lieu of physical searches.