Wednesday, December 16, 1998

John Duncanson

p. B1.

Police strip-search policies to undergo public review

Board to study chief's request for more power under the law

The Toronto Police Services Board will hold public meetings in January to discuss the controversial issue of police strip-searches before any new rules are put in place.

At the same time, the board will review chief David Boothby's request that the police force ask the province for new legislation to give officers more powers under the law to strip and search prisoners.

In a report to the board yesterday, Boothby said officers can legally search a person at the time of arrest, but the law doesn't specifically state that a search can be done once a suspect has been taken to a police station.

"At present there is no legislative authority for police officers to conduct subsequent searches of prisoners who are incarcerated in police facilities," the report states.

The chief's report said a new policy is needed because there were "inconsistencies when searches are conducted, where they are conducted, and how they are conducted," by officers from across the city.

Jeff Lyons, the police board member who is overseeing public consultations and will deliver a final report to the board in February, said he wants to hear from as many people as possible.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to set a policy that can be a model for the rest of Canada," said Lyons, adding he hopes to hold at least two public meetings in January.

It was Lyons who first suggested the force ask the province to formalize strip-search regulations as part of the Police Services Act.

Lyons said he was glad to see Boothby had suggested the idea as a formal recommendation to the board. Aside from the public meetings, there may also be in-camera sessions for people who don't want to publicly tell stories of being strip-searched, Lyons said.

To help the board better understand police searches, members were given a demonstration yesterday of a typical "pat-down" search by two officers. They stopped short of showing them a full strip-search.

The board also heard several statements from people who claimed they were illegally searched and others who showed up to give advise about what the new policy should include.

Two speakers from women's groups said they felt strip-searches of women constituted a sexual assault under the Criminal Code.

They wanted the new policy to include a provision that if a strip-search is found to have been conducted without justification, the officer involved would then become the subject of a sexual assault probe.

The strip-search controversy has been brewing since February when the Canadian Civil Liberties association complained about the strip-search and detention of four teens in Toronto following an anti-Bill 160 protest last December.

Nothing was done until more stories surfaced recently from people who claimed they were illegally stripped and searched. The allegations prompted Boothby to draft a new policy which would include a requirement that officers seek permission from a superior before conducting strip-searches at a station.

Chief wants clearer rules on searches

The officer in charge would be required to document the reason on the arrest report. For searches carried out before officers and subjects arrive at stations, officers would have to document reasons for the search and advise the officer in charge on arrival. No formal reporting system now exists.

Until the new policy is in place, officers will continue to use their discretion when strip-searching prisoners and can do so without asking superiors first.

Confusion over just when a suspect can be stripped and searched is causing chaos at some police stations where prisoners, who have obviously been following the controversy in the media, now routinely tell officers they have no right to search them.

In a case on Dec. 5, a thorough search of a suspect wasn't carried out before he arrived at 52 Division. To the shock of officers at the division, the prisoner reached into the crotch of his pants and pulled out an air pistol and quickly handed it over to the police.

More about strip searches... [Fiona Stewart]

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

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