A recent report has found that Toronto police conduct more strip searches than any other police force in Ontario, and Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director, says it’s time to take a look at the issue.
Strip searches are defined as the rearranging or removing of a suspect’s clothing to allow officers to see the person’s breasts, genitals, or buttocks. It’s an invasion of privacy on such a level that the Supreme Court has ruled that it cannot be considered routine policy.
There are specific guidelines for police to follow on how and when strip searches should be conducted, which result from R. vs. Golden, a Supreme Court Case from 2001.
However, in 2016 Toronto police found it necessary to conduct strip searches in about 37.5% of all arrests they conducted (down from over 40% in 2014 and 2015)—making the practice 40 times more likely to occur than in arrests by police in Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor, or even by the OPP.
Not surprisingly, many of these searches are unconstitutional for the following reasons.
- No grounds to conduct a strip search
- Strip search conducted as a matter of routine
- Unlawful arrest or detainment
- Search conducted in the field when not urgent
- Lack of privacy
- Suspect fully undressed
The report finds that most commonly (in 83 percent of violations), there were no grounds to conduct the search to begin with.
It’s unclear why these searches are done so often in this particular jurisdiction, which is disturbing in light of how degrading and humiliating they are. Many people who have been through it say that the events led to sleeplessness, depression, and feelings of being violated.
Even so, McNeilly comments that “police compliance is still a serious issue” and he suggests that inadequate training is the core problem.
Meaghan Gray, spokesperson for the Toronto police, says they’re working on it, including reviewing their training, policies, and procedures with regard to strip searches. They’ve also introduced body scanners similar to the ones you see in airports. These scanners can identify objects that may be concealed on a person, and are intended to replace strip searches in some cases (but not all), and it’s still up to the officers to determine which cases warranty a search. Gray says, “Each circumstance is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and officers must make a determination, based on reasonable grounds, to conduct any level of search.”
Sometimes, inappropriate strip searches lead to cases being thrown out of court, such as the 2016 case of a drunk driver being told to remove his pants for no reason.