arbitrary detention

Supreme Court Overturns Convictions in Favour of Racialized Man

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP


A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada is sending a strong message  regarding the harm of over-policing racial minorities in inner-city neighbourhoods.

In a 3-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the police had no reasonable cause to enter a backyard and question an Asian-Canadian man and therefore set aside his convictions for possessing a gun, drugs and illicit cash.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the evening of May 25, 2012, twenty year old Tom Le (“Le”) was speaking with four young black men in the backyard of a Toronto housing complex.

Police officers were tipped off by security guards who patrolled the complex that there were concerns of drug trafficking in the backyard of this address and that a suspect had been observed there.

Two police officers entered the backyard without consent or a judicial warrant and began to question and request identification from the young men.  A third officer patrolling the perimeter of the property stepped over a low fence and told one of the men to keep his hands where he could see them.

One officer demanded that Le provide his ID and he was asked about the contents of a bag that was slung across his body.  Le then attempted to flee the scene and was quickly tackled and apprehended.  His bag was found to contain a loaded handgun and a considerable amount of cash.  At the police station, Le turned over 13 grams of cocaine to police.

At his trial, Le argued that the evidence should be excluded under section 24(2) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as police violated his constitutional rights to be free from arbitrary detention and unreasonable search (contrary to sections 8 and 9 of the Charter).

At trial, the judge rejected Le’s position that police violated his rights under the Charter and found that police had legally detained Le.  He was found guilty of several gun and drug offences and was also unsuccessful in challenging his convictions at the Ontario Court of Appeal.  Le proceeded to commence an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

SUPREME COURT OF CANADA’S DECISION AND REASONS

Contrary to the lower court decisions, the majority of the highest level of court in Canada threw out the convictions as a result of serious violations of Le’s rights under the Charter.  The court ruled that the police actions amounted to an arbitrary detention and serious violation of Le’s rights and therefore the evidence must be excluded.

The purpose of section 9 of the Charter, prohibiting arbitrary detention, is to protect Canadians against unjustified state interference.  A detention may not necessarily involve physical restraint, but may exist in a situation where “a reasonable person in the accused’s shoes would feel obligated to comply with a police direction or demand and that they are not free to leave”.

The Supreme Court found that in this case the detention was arbitrary as the police were trespassers and had no legal authority to detain the accused.  Furthermore, their intimidating behaviour made Le feel as though he was unable to leave, even though he had the right to do so.

Although the incident occurred in a high-crime neighbourhood, the court found that the police did not have the authority to enter a private yard.  The court stated:

Indeed, that a neighbourhood is policed more heavily imparts a responsibility on police officers to be vigilant in respecting the privacy, dignity and equality of its residents who already feel the presence and scrutiny of the state more keenly than their more affluent counterparts in other areas of the city.

The majority judges also found that the police had engaged in “carding” (a topic that we have previously blogged about), which is the police practice of randomly stopping and questioning individuals who are not suspected of any crime.  This is a practice that unjustifiably affects racialized individuals. 

The court found that the incident of the police entry into the backyard was another example of the experience of racialized young men who are targeted, stopped and questioned. 

The court stated:

The impact of the over-policing of racial minorities and the carding of individuals within those communities without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is more than an inconvenience.  Carding takes a toll on a person’s physical and mental health.  It impacts their ability to pursue employment and education opportunities.

Le’s lawyers, were thankful for the Supreme Court decision in favour of their client and the message that is being distributed.  Emily Lam stated:

We’re grateful that the court heard us, that they heard the voices of marginalized and racialized communities, all of whom have been saying that they are police differently, and the court recognizing that their experience has been different.

Samara Secter stated:

I think this is a push from the Supreme Court to have police recognize that everyone’s rights deserve respect.

There has been no real response from Toronto Police Services other than its spokesperson stating that the ruling is being “reviewed and considered by the Toronto Police Service’s professional standards unit”.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We have a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

Police Did Not Trespass and No Charter Violation For Arrest of Drunk Driver Who Was Peeing on His Front Porch

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In a recent decision, an Ontario judge found that a man who was arrested while peeing on his front porch after an officer received reports of a drunk driver in the area had not been arrested or held in violation of his Charter rights, and the officer had not been trespassing when he made the arrest.

What Happened?

The man in question, Mr. Mali, drove home while intoxicated, parked his car on the driveway, and began to pee on his front porch. A police officer who had responded to a call about a possible drunk driver walked onto Mr. Mali’s property and began to ask him questions.

Mr. Mali initially responded by telling the officer that he “had to pee” and that he did not want to speak with the officer. He eventually began to answer the officer’s questions, and was arrested for impaired driving and taken to the station.

Mr. Mali provided three breath samples at the police station, which revealed that his blood alcohol content (BAC) was almost three times the legal limit. After providing the samples, Mr. Mali was placed in a cell for approximately six and a half hours and then released.

At trial, Mr. Mali’s counsel argued that when Mr. Mali informed the officer that he did not want to speak with him, the officer had been obliged to leave, and that his failure to do so, and Mr. Mali’s subsequent arrest and demand for breath samples violated Mr. Mali’s s. 8 Charter rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The fact that he was held for six hours in a cell at the police station was “overholding” and violated his s. 9 Charter right not to be arbitrarily detained. Mr. Mali’s counsel argued that the breath test results, the statements made by Mr. Mali on the night of his arrest, and the observations made by the police on the night of the arrest should be excluded as evidence as a remedy for the supposed Charter violations.

Justice Schrenk dismissed the Charter application, and found Mr. Mali guilty on two counts of driving while impaired.

The Court’s Reasoning

The Arrest and Breath Samples

 Mr. Mali’s defense counsel argued that his arrest on private property and subsequent request for a breath sample violated Mr. Mali’s s. 8 and s.9 Charter rights.

Case law has clearly established that it is permissible for a police officer who has a legitimate basis for entering a driveway- such as seeing a driver driving erratically, and following the driver back to a destination to ensure they have arrived safely before detaining them- to do so. That officer has implied permission to enter onto the property.

In this case, defense counsel for Mr. Mali accepted that the officer was entitled to enter onto Mr. Mali’s property; however, when Mr. Mali informed the officer that he did not want to speak with him, this withdrew the implied invitation, and the officer then became a trespasser.

Justice Schrenk disagreed with this argument for two reasons.

Firstly, there had not been a “clear expression of intent” that Mr. Mali did not wish to communicate further with the officer. Rather, Mr. Mali had stated that he “had to pee” and “didn’t want to talk”. While this could potentially be interpreted as a complete refusal to speak, a more reasonable interpretation is that Mr. Mali did not want to speak until he had finished urinating. Mr. Mali’s subsequent willingness to answer questions made such an interpretation even more reasonable.

Secondly, even though the officer may not have had grounds to arrest Mr. Mali when they initially engaged in conversation, he did once he realized how intoxicated Mr. Mali appeared. Had this interaction taken place on the road, the Highway Traffic Act would have given the officer the authority to detain Mr. Mali. While the Act does not apply on private property, there is a related common law right to detain someone on their private property, as long as the police officer is lawfully entitled to be on the property. It’s clear, based on existing caselaw, that once a police officer has entered onto private property under an implied invitation and arrests a person, that officer can then remain on the property in order to complete the arrest even if the implied invitation is later withdrawn:

In this case, Cst. Leal lawfully entered the property to conduct an investigation.  Even if Mr. Mali withdrew the implied invitation, he was by then lawfully detained and Cst. Leal was entitled to remain on the property to continue that detention and to arrest Mr. Mali once he had grounds to do so.

Justice Schrenk concluded that there was no s. 8 violation in this case.

“Overholding” at the Station

 After being detained at the police station, Mr. Mali provided three breath samples. The last breath test was administered at 3:28 a.m. He was released around six and a half hours later, at 9:49 a.m. Mr. Mali’s defense counsel argued that this was an instance of “overholding” which violated his s. 9 Charter rights.

“Overholding” claims are common. Caselaw has clearly established that police are entitled to hold someone for a period of time after a breath test is administered, but only if the decision to hold that person is made for legitimate reasons and based on proper considerations. Such considerations, known as “Price factors” after the case they appear in, include:

  • The person’s BAC;
  • The person’s level of comprehension;
  • Whether the person was charged with impaired driving;
  • Whether the person had a suspended license;
  • Whether there was a responsible individual to pick the person up;
  • Whether the person has a criminal record;
  • Whether the person has any outstanding charges;

The officer in charge can make an informed decision about when to release the person based on the above and other factors. A number of factors should be considered, and the release decision should not be made based on BAC alone.

In this case, the police officer in charge of the station on the evening Mr. Mali was detained testified that he considered the Price factors in deciding when to release Mr. Mali. The officer who relieved the initial officer in charge around 5:45am, testified that it was his general practice to consider the BAC of a detained person by assuming that the person eliminated alcohol at a rate of 15mg per 100 ml of blood per hour. Additionally, it was his general practice to have a cells officer check on detainees every thirty minutes and report their observations of a prisoner’s sobriety. Here, in applying the general calculation of alcohol elimination, Mr. Mali’s BAC would still have been significantly over the legal limit upon his release at 9:49am.

Justice Schrenk found that in these circumstances, he was not persuaded on a balance of probabilities that Mr. Mali was held in violation of his Charter rights.

The Charter application was dismissed.

If you have been charged with impaired driving or another driving offense, contact our office online or at 905-404-1947 to schedule a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable and experienced Oshawa lawyers. We regularly  handle drunk driving and over 80 defence. We have 24-hour phone service for your convenience. Our office is located within walking distance of the Durham Consolidated Courthouse.