Supreme Court approves of extreme police tactics, rules Calgary police did not use unreasonable force

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Ottawa – Today the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case R. v. Cornell that the Calgary Police Department did not use unreasonable force when they broke down the door of Lorraine Cornell‟s home in 2005 while executing a drug search warrant.

Without first announcing themselves, the Calgary Police Service‟s armoured Tactical Enforcement Unit used a battering ram to break down Ms. Cornell‟s door and then charged in with guns drawn and faces covered by ski masks. The BCCLA was an intervener in the case and argued that the violent entry was dangerous and unwarranted, and that the police should have followed the centuries old ‘knock and announce’ rule.

Ryan Dalziel, counsel for the BCCLA: “The knock and announce rule is not only intended to protect the lives and safety of both police and civilians, it actually does so, according to a landmark report by Wallace Oppal. Surprise raids might be necessary in special circumstances, but violent raids should be the rare exception and not the rule.”

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA: “The case sets a worrisome precedent. Nine masked men with loaded rifles broke down this family‟s door and charged inside with guns drawn. Why were the police so afraid? There was no reason for the police to believe that Jason Cornell might be violent – he had no criminal record and no history of violence and neither did anyone else in the house. We‟re concerned that the court sets a very low bar for the facts that the police need to establish to justify this type of dangerous raid – it seems that all the police need to say, is “trust us.””

The court unanimously affirmed the principle that ordinarily the police must announce their presence and wait a reasonable time before forcing entry into a home. However, in a split 4-3 ruling, the majority of the court held that the police‟s storm trooper-style tactics were justified because the police had concerns that the use of less intrusive methods would pose safety risks to the officers and would allow for the opportunity for evidence to be destroyed.

In dissent, three judges argued that the claim that the tactics were necessary to protect the safety of the officers was “entirely unsupported by the record” and concluded the search ran afoul of Charter prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The appeal was brought by Jason Cornell. Mr. Cornell lived in his mother Lorraine‟s home, along with his brother, Robert, and 17-year-old sister. Police suspected that Jason was involved in a dial-a-dope operation and executed a search warrant at his mother‟s home. Instead of finding Jason, police came upon his mentally challenged brother Robert. Police handcuffed Robert, and left him terrified and lying prone while they continued to break down doors in the house. Paramedics had to be called to care for Robert. Police arrested Jason Cornell at his place of work later that evening.

The BCCLA was represented by Ryan Dalziel and Daniel Webster, Q.C. of Bull, Housser and Tupper LLP.

The argument the BCCLA filed in the case is available here

Ryan Dalziel, Counsel for the BCCLA: (604) 641-4881
Grace Pastine, BCCLA Litigation Director: [email protected] or (778) 241-7183