Human Rights

Strip Searches in Ontario are Occurring Too Often

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A new report released by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (an independent civilian oversight agency responsible for overseeing all complaints regarding the police in Ontario) concludes that police officers in Ontario are conducting unnecessary, and sometimes unlawful, strip searches which interfere with privacy rights and negatively impact criminal court cases.

Gerry McNeilly, the Independent Police Review Director since June 2008, authored the report entitled “Breaking The Golden Rule:  A Review of Police Strip Searches in Ontario” (the “report”).

WHAT IS A STRIP SEARCH?

In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of R. v. Golden (“Golden”), defined the elements of a strip search and explained how strip searches are to be lawfully conducted.  A strip search is defined as the removal or rearrangement of some or all of someone’s clothing to allow for an officer to visually inspect their genitals, buttocks, breasts or undergarments.   

The majority of the Supreme Court of Canada emphasized the importance of preventing unjustified strip searches and recognized that these searches are “inherently humiliating and degrading for detainees regardless of the manner in which they are carried out and for this reason they cannot be carried out simply as a matter of routine policy”.

The Court went on to explain that strip searches are only constitutionally valid when they are “conducted as an incident to a lawful arrest for the purpose of discovering weapons in the detainee’s possession or evidence related to the reason for the arrest.  In addition, the police must establish reasonable and probable grounds justifying the strip search in addition to reasonable and probable grounds justifying the arrest”.

However, despite this decision, it has been found that courts in Ontario repeatedly find that strip searches conducted by police officers are unlawful or unreasonable, resulting in the exclusion of evidence or the stay of charges.

STRIP SEARCH FINDINGS BY THE NUMBERS

The report found that police in Ontario conduct approximately 22,000 strip searches a year, with the majority being conducted by Toronto Police Service. 

According to the report, in 2016 Toronto police conducted 17,654 strip searches (occurring in approximately 37.5% of all arrests that year).  Strip searches were found to have occurred in more than 40% of all arrests in Toronto in 2014 and 2015.  This was found to be 40 times higher than the rate of strip searches conducted by police services in Hamilton, Durham Region, Ottawa, Windsor and the Ontario Provincial Police during the same time period.

A spokesperson for the Toronto police, Meaghan Gray, has advised that the Toronto police are “addressing the challenges and sensitivities associated to strip searches for the last few years”.  Toronto police are reviewing procedures and training of their officers and have recently launched a full body scan pilot project, which is aimed at reducing strip searches.  Ms. Gray emphasized that when strip searches are conducted appropriately, “they can be a necessary safety requirement resulting in the seizure of weapons and drugs which pose a significant risk to the person and those around them.”

According to the report, since the ruling in the case of Golden, Toronto police were involved in 40 of the 89 criminal court decisions where a judge found that a police strip search had violated the defendant’s Charter rights.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The report provides a template for strip search procedures and a sample strip search form.  The report also offers 50 recommendations on how Ontario police services should conduct, document, and train their officers on strip searches.  These recommendations include, but are not limited to the following:

  • ensure that all police services comprehend the law regarding strip searches and the implications of violations;
  • enhance training for strip searches and incorporate strip searches into police services annual or biennial training;
  • clearly define what constitutes a strip search in keeping with the Supreme Court ruling in Golden;
  • strip searches should ordinarily be authorized in advance and be carried out by an officer of the same gender;
  • every Ontario police service should be made aware of judicial findings of Charter violations in strip search cases, and take measures to address the issues raised;
  • all Ontario police service must keep accurate statistics of the number of persons arrested or detained, the number of persons strip searched, and the justifications provided for conducted strip searches; and
  • statistics kept by Ontario police service should identify the race of the person subjected to a strip search in an effort to evaluate whether race plays a role in the decision to conduct strip searches.

We will continue to follow any developments in the news and in case law regarding strip searches in Ontario and will provide updates in this blog as they become available. 

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our clients’ rights.  We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

Report Released Indicates Racial Profiling by Toronto Police

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (“OHRC”) released an interim report regarding racial profiling and racial discrimination by Toronto Police Services.

The OHRC is the provincial statutory agency responsible for improving human rights and preventing systemic discrimination in Ontario.

According to the OHRC, the data showed that Black citizens are overrepresented in cases where Toronto Police use force that results in serious injury or death. In its report, the OHRC expressed its grave concern about racial profiling and discrimination of Black people by Toronto Police Services in use of force incidents, stops, questioning and searches, and charges laid.

A COLLECTIVE IMPACT

The OHRC began its inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black citizens by the Toronto Police following concerns raised by Black communities in Toronto, and more specifically following the gunpoint arrest of four black teenagers in 2011 (known as the Neptune Four) and the shooting death of Andrew Loku in 2015.

The report, entitled “A Collective Impact” (the “report”), examined qualitative and quantitative data from the Special Investigations Unit (an agency that investigates police incidents that involve injuries or death) between January 1, 2010 and June 30, 2017 in Toronto.

According to the report, between 2013 and 2017 a Black person was 20 times more likely than a White person to be involved in a fatal shooting by the Toronto Police.

In Toronto, Black people account for 8.8% of the population. According to the report, between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2017 in Toronto, Black people were found to be over-represented in the following circumstances:

  • police use-of-force cases (28.8%);
  • shootings (36%);
  • deadly encounters with police (61.5%); and
  • fatal police shootings (70%).

Renu Mandhane, the OHRC’s chief commission, stated:

A Collective Impact is the latest in a body of reports, findings and recommendations – over the past 30 years – that point to persistent concerns about anti-Black racism in policing in Toronto. Our interim findings are disturbing and call for immediate action.

The report also exposed that there was a lack of legal basis for police stopping Black citizens, inappropriate searches, and unnecessary charges or arrests.

TORONTO POLICE RESPONSE TO THE REPORT

Toronto Police Services Board (“TPSB”) and Toronto Police Services (“TPS”) have acknowledged the frustrations amongst Black citizens in Toronto who have suspected they were treated differently based upon the colour of their skin.

Toronto Police Services Board and Toronto Police Services released a joint statement responding to the interim findings, which read as follows:

We recognize that there are those within Toronto’s Black communities who feel that, because of the colour of their skin, the police, including when it comes to use of force, have at times, treated them differently. We understand that this has created a sense of distrust that has lasted generations. … The Board and the Service acknowledge that no institution or organization, including the Toronto Police, is immune from overt and implicit bias. … Nevertheless, we acknowledge that a unique obligation is required from those of us who are charged with upholding the law and protecting all of our city’s people.  And, while we may be confronting these challenges with resolve today, we are committed to doing even better. … We are ready, willing and actively doing the hard work that is required of us.

 WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The OHRC will continue to study SIU data and look for patterns in use of force incidents and examine connections between age, mental health, socio-economic status, and sex.

The OHRC will also examine the Police’s culture, training, policies, procedures, and accountability mechanisms. Lastly, the OHRC will hold focus groups with Black communities in Toronto and connect with police leaders, officers, associations, and organizations to better understand all of the issues.

The OHRC will prepare a final inquiry report likely to be completed in 2020, which will include all findings, recommendations, and any next steps.

In the interim, the OHRC has made the following requests:

  • That TPS and TPSB acknowledge that racial disparities raise serious concerns;
  • That TPS and TPSB support the OHRC’s inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black citizens;
  • That TPSB require the TPS to collect and publicly report on race-based data on all stops, searches, and use of force incidents;
  • That Ontario implement recommendations in the Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review;
  • That the City of Toronto implement recommendations in the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism.

We will continue to follow any developments that arise regarding the OHRC’s report and findings and any response to the noteworthy report, and will inform of these developments in this blog.

In the meantime, if you are facing criminal charges, contact the experienced and skilled Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We take all steps needed to protect your best interests, both immediate and long term. For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour phone service and a free confidential consultation.  Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help.

Canadian Judges Urged to Consider History of Systemic Racism When Sentencing Black Offenders

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A Call for Greater Consideration

Canadian defence lawyers are urging judges to give greater consideration to how systemic racism may have played a role in the actions of black criminals, similar to the consideration given to aboriginals.

The National Post reports “Defence lawyers behind the push say asking judges to consider how historic discrimination and marginalization may have influenced their clients’ behaviour is not meant to be a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card; it simply gives judges a fuller picture of their clients before their fates are decided.”

R. v. Gladue

The consideration being urged is similar to the Gladue report, which judges, defence counsel, or Crown Attorneys are able to request during pre-sentencing or bail hearings of Aboriginal offenders.

Gladue reports stem from a 1998 Supreme Court of Canada decision, R. v. Gladue, in which the Court ordered “ it is incumbent upon the sentencing judge to attempt to acquire information regarding the circumstances of the offender as an aboriginal person.  Whether the offender resides in a rural area, on a reserve or in an urban centre the sentencing judge must be made aware of alternatives to incarceration that exist whether inside or outside the aboriginal community of the particular offender.  The alternatives existing in metropolitan areas must, as a matter of course, also be explored.  Clearly the presence of an aboriginal offender will require special attention in pre‑sentence reports.”

Conflicting Points of View

Wayne van der Meide, regional manager of case management and litigation for Legal Aid Ontario told the National Post that his organization wants to encourage Ontario judges to employ cultural assessments, allocating funds for test cases.

Nova Scotia has used cultural assessments in a small number of cases, and van der Meide stated that courts in Ontario have recognized that black people have faced systemic racism for decades, but this has always been done without a formal mechanism.

The hope of Van der Meide and others pushing for this type of consideration is that the Canada’s black population will cease to be overrepresented in Canada’s prison system. According to Vice News, 9.5% of Canada’s prisoners are black, compared to only 3% of the Canadian population.

However, Canada’s federal prison ombudsman, Ivan Zinger, says that he isn’t sure cultural assessments will do anything to change the black population’s overrepresentation in prison. He told the National Post that Aboriginal Canadian’s still account for 26% of Canada’s prisoners, while making up less than 5% of the population despite years of use of Glaude reports. He said “Adopting the same Gladue approach for Canadians of African descent may also not yield the desired outcome,” adding, “Investments in improving socioeconomic, cultural and political rights of vulnerable segments of the Canadian population may be a better approach.”

If you are facing criminal charges, contact the skilled Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison online or at 905 404 1947. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services and a free confidential consultation. We are available when you need us most.

Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Calls for End to Solitary Confinement in Ontario Prisons

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We’ve previously blogged about prison conditions in Ontario. The issue is now back in the news following the visit of the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to the Thunder Bay District Jail and her subsequent calls for an end to segregation in the province’s correctional facilities.

The Chief Commissioner, Renu Mandhane, visited the jail in early October where she met Adam Capay, a 23-year old inmate Aboriginal inmate from the Lac Seul First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, who had been held in solitary confinement for more than 1,500 days (or 4 years). Mr. Capay had been detained in a basement, alone, in a plexiglass cell, where the lights were on for 24 hours a day. Mr. Capay had no conception of whether it was day or night.

After meeting Mr. Capay, the Chief Commissioner reported that Mr. Capay appeared to be suffering from memory and speech problems as a result of the conditions in which he was being held, and that he showed signs of self-harm.

Mr. Capay’s confinement began in 2012, when, while serving time at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, he was involved with a violent confrontation with another inmate, resulting in that inmate’s death. Mr. Capay was subsequently charged with first degree murder, and sent to solitary confinement. He was 19 years old at the time. To date, Mr. Capay has never had a trial, has never been convicted of anything, and has not been sentenced for a crime. Yet, he has been locked in solitary confinement for 52 months.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission on Solitary Confinement in Correctional Facilities

In January 2016, the OHRC provided the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services with written submissions on the use of segregation (i.e.- solitary confinement) in correctional facilities in Ontario.

Following the Chief Commissioner’s visit to the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, the OHRC made supplementary submissions with additional commentary. The new report indicates that there is a “gross reliance on and overuse of segregation” in Ontario’s correctional facilities and that these issues are “systemic”. Statistics indicate that between October and December of 2015, more than 4,100 Ontario inmates spent at least one day in segregation. More than 1,500 of these inmates, or almost 40% of them had a “mental heath alert” on file.  Almost 25% of segregations exceeded two weeks (15 days being the UN recognized threshold for torture).

Public Outrage about the Conditions Mr. Capay was Held In

Since Mr. Capay’s circumstances were brought to light, there has been significant public outrage. The Globe and Mail’s editorial board wrote a scathing editorial criticizing the “inhuman treatment” of Mr. Capay, and asking “those who allowed this to happen” to be held accountable. The editorial board pointed out, among other things, that

The only thing Ontario prison officials haven’t done to this poor man is shackle him upside down on a dungeon wall. But they may as well have. Mr. Capay is arguably being tortured by the state. The sensory deprivation caused by constant light is an acknowledged torture technique, and the United Nations says that holding a person for more than 15 days in solitary is in itself a form of torture.

Indeed, as the board points out, the Supreme Court of Canada has previously acknowledges that any delay longer than 30 months between the laying of a criminal charge/charges and the completion of trial is a violation of the accused person’s fundamental Charter right to trial within a reasonable period of time. Mr. Capay’s 1,500 day incarceration is approximately 100 times longer than the 15 day window that the UN considers solitary confinement constituting torture.

The Response

Premier Wynne has stated that she is “very troubled” by the circumstances, and that “it is very disturbing and shouldn’t happen”, but would not comment on whether anyone would be held accountable for what happened to Mr. Capay, saying only that the Liberal government would conduct an additional review of solitary confinement in the province.

David Orazietti, the province’s Correctional Services Minister has since committed to ensuring no other Ontario inmate is held in conditions with 24-hour per day light, and that all inmates have daily access to medical care.

It remains to be seen what the final outcome of this shocking mistreatment of an inmate will be. Since the Chief Commissioner shed light on Capay’s mistreatment, he has been moved to a different cell with lights that can be dimmed, and access to a day room and a television.

We will follow developments in this matter and blog about updates as they become available.

At Affleck & Barrison our firm and its predecessors have been representing clients charged with criminal offences and protecting their rights since 1992.  Our lawyers are extremely knowledgeable and are experienced at defending a wide range of charges.  Call us at 905-404-1947 or contact us online for a free consultation. We offer 24-hour phone service for your convenience, and a variety of payment options, including Legal Aid. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help.

Transgender Rights Bill Introduced by Liberals

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has introduced new legislation which aims to extend human rights protection to transgender Canadians. The announcement was made on May 17, 2016 –  the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia –  and marks a major step forward in the fight to protect the human rights of transgender people across the country.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled Bill C-16 which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crime provisions in the Criminal Code include “gender identity” and “gender expression” as prohibited grounds of discrimination. The legislation would amend the Code such that if a crime is motivated by hate based on gender identity, a judge must consider that as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

 

At a press conference, Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould said, “No one should be refused a job, disadvantaged in the workplace, be unable to access services or be the target of harassment and violence because of their gender identity or gender expression.”

But the Bill must still pass through the House of Commons and the Senate before it becomes law. A similar transgender rights bill brought by the NDP was previously passed by the House of Commons during the last session of parliament, but it never made it past the Senate. This is the seventh time such a bill has been introduced in the House of Commons, but the first time it has been introduced by the current government.

Although previous cases of transgender rights discrimination were heard by federal Human Rights tribunals and courts, they did so on the basis of provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sex.

Of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, eight, including Ontario, already have provisions protecting transgender people under their human rights laws, but only five cover both gender identity and gender expression.

Although it is less controversial in Canada, transgender rights have recently become the subject of heated debate in the United States after North Carolina passed a law that prohibits people from using public washrooms that do not correspond to the gender on their birth certificates.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.