Friday, November 13, 1998

Jim Rankin and Jennifer Quinn

p. A1.

Strip searches: New rules proposed

Chief Boothby urges written documentation from officers

Toronto Police Chief David Boothby has proposed tough new rules for officers conducting strip-searches. For the first time, police officers would be required to document all strip-searches and the reasons why they were carried out.

Earlier this year, Boothby defended the police policy of leaving it up to individual officers to decide how a person should be searched. But yesterday, he proposed these changes:

  • Inside police stations, officers must seek permission from the officer in charge before conducting a strip-search. The officer in charge will be required to document the reasons on arrest reports.

  • For strip-searches prior to arriving at police stations, officers will be required to document reasons for the search and advise the officer in charge upon arrival.

Boothby's proposals will be dealt with at the Toronto Police Services Board next week.

The request for the policy change follows a report released last February by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on the strip-search and five-hour detention of four teens in Toronto following a protest against an education bill last December.

'To be sure, it's a step in the right direction -- Alan Borovoy Canadian Civil Liberties Association

"I am confident that our revised policy will address the concerns of citizens while ensuring that our police officers are not left at risk of being killed or injured by prisoners who have not been properly searched," Boothby said in a release yesterday.

Boothby also stated that a number of citizens have died while in police custody and that "in some cases, the deaths have come about as a result of the use or ingestion of substances which had been concealed by the individual prior to arrest."

Search rules reviewed

Boothby told CVTO News last night that "I wanted to make sure that everything is documented, so that if there are questions asked later we have a reference to come and see just why the search took place."

Yesterday's announcement was welcomed by the civil liberties association, which this week called again for a change in the way police strip-search suspects.

"To be sure, it's a step in the right direction and it's a very welcome move," said Alan Borovoy, the group's counsel.

Several community and civil liberties groups have been complaining about unnecessary use of such searches for years.

A 1994 report, funded in part by the Ontario Legal Aid Plan and the Department of Justice, outlined concerns with strip-searches and the Toronto force. The report classified unnecessary strip-searches as a misuse of police power and through interviews with complainants, related several anonymous anecdotal examples, among them:

  • A man whose hat matched a hat worn by a suspect drug dealer was strip-searched, put in a cell and later released.

  • A man was stripped, had his clothes taken away and was put in a cell with the window wide open.

  • A man picked up by police was taken to Cherry Beach, stripped then thrown into Lake Ontario. Police then threw his clothes in the water.

  • A woman with no criminal record was arrested for public drunkenness. she was frisked, put in a cruiser and taken to a police station where she was strip-searched and charged.

The report, prepared by a panel of representatives from community groups, noted that, to the people who were interviewed, the purpose of the strip-search was to "humiliated intimidate, not for safety or to secure evidence."

In December, 1996, the province's now defunct Police Complaints Commission released proposed standardized guidelines for police strip-searches. The report was in response to public complaints.

"One of the main recommendations called for officers to prepare a written report stating: the reason for the search; legal or other authority for making the search; who was present; injuries and identifying features of the suspect; details of any force used; whether a member of the opposite sex conducted the search.

Another recommendation stated body cavity searches should only be used to search for contraband or evidence and be conducted by a medical practitioner.

Kimberly Murray, acting director of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, said some of the clinic's clients find it curious that police are finally making moves to change policy after the story surfaced about a British lawyer's strip-search experience with 52 Division police.

Ask the clients if they get strip-searched, and the answer is "all the time," Murray said. Murray said the proposed changes do not go far enough because there is no mention of guidelines on when and how searches should be used.

"From the way it's been explained to me, all the officer might have to do is check off a box that might say 'suspect drugs' or 'suspect weapons,' " Murray said.

Toronto Police clippings... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: February 15, 1999
Last modified: February 15, 1999

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