Supreme Court of Canada to rule on warrantless search and seizure case

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For immediate release

OTTAWA – Tomorrow, March 17, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada will issue its decision in R. v. Paterson. Among other issues, the case considers whether there are sufficiently exigent circumstances when police are effecting a “no case” seizure to justify the warrantless search of a home. The BCCLA is an intervener in the case and will be making oral submissions to the Court in order to safeguard the right to privacy and freedom from government intrusion.

A “no case” seizure is where drugs are seized by police in circumstances where the police have no intention of pursuing charges against the person for possession. In this case, police decided to undertake a “no case” seizure after smelling marihuana coming from Mr. Paterson’s apartment. As Mr. Paterson was retrieving the marihuana from his kitchen, the police officers entered and searched his home.

Under s. 11(7) of the Controlled, Drug and Substances Act, police may perform a warrantless search only if exigent or urgent circumstances make it effectively impossible to obtain a warrant. Exigent circumstances include where a person’s life may be at risk, in cases of “hot pursuit” or where there is imminent danger that evidence will be destroyed.

The BCCLA argued that a “no case” seizure does not justify a warrantless search.  Canadians have the Charter-protected right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, particularly in their homes.  When police seize drugs in a “no case” seizure, they do so for the sole purpose of destroying them. Accordingly, preservation of evidence cannot justify a warrantless search in those circumstances.  Unless there is a sufficiently pressing justification for the warrantless search, such as a risk to a person’s life, such a search should not be permitted.

The BCCLA is represented by Roy Millen and Rebecca Spigelman of Blakes LLP.

The BCCLA’s argument in this case is available here.

What: Supreme Court of Canada will issue its decision in R. v. Paterson.

When: March 17, 2017 at 6:45 am PT/ 9:45 am ET.

Where: Supreme Court of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)

Who:  BCCLA representatives available for comment