Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Gay Abbate

p. A12.

Report likens strip searches to sex assault

Board member recommends that police use of the procedure be severely limited

Strip searches that include body cavities are tantamount to a sexual assault and are so degrading that Toronto Police should never be permitted to conduct them, says a report that sets forth strict new rules to protect the rights of individuals.

"The report is an excellent beginning. It's the beginning of making some significant headway on this issue," said Judy Sgro, vice-chairman of the Toronto Police Services Board, which will receive the report on Thursday.

The author of the report, Toronto lawyer and board member Jeff Lyons, was given the job of developing a strip-search policy that ensures people's rights are not violated but at the same time allows police to do their job properly and safely.

The need for a policy was highlighted last fall in a series of news articles in The Globe and Mail. Some individuals recounted that they had been arrested for minor offences and subjected to the degrading ordeal before being released.

After several months of consulting with police forces around the globe and listening to women and members of minorities recount their unpleasant experiences with strip searches. Mr. Lyons has come up with 15 recommendations he wants the board to adopt. the board will hold a public meeting on May 20 before it votes on his proposed policy.

Mr. Lyons has recommended a three-tiered search policy, outlining what police can and cannot do in each type of search. The strip search should be used only if there are no less intrusive types of searches to recover the objects or evidence police are seeking, he says in the report.

Three Types Of Searches

Field or frisk search: A search of a person conducted by quickly running hands over the person's outer garments and an examination of anything worn or carried by that person that can be conveniently and voluntarily removed.

Ordinary search: A search of a person or articles in the pos- session of the person that may include requiring the person to remove coat, gloves, shoes and hat and an examination of those items.

Complete or strip search: A search of a person or articles in the possession of a person that may include requiring the person to remove some or all garments. A visual examination of the person's body, but not of the person's body cavities.

Mr. Lyons says in the document, "It has become patently clear that women and minorities have a real fear of the complete, or 'strip' search. To such individuals, the very act would be almost equivalent to a sexual assault." Any policy adopted by the police board must take into consideration and be sensitive to these concerns, he said.

His report also notes the concerns of police officers who have told him that they consider strip searches "distasteful and difficult acts which are undertaken for necessity and not for any punishment."

Nevertheless, Mr. Lyons has proposed that body-cavity searches be conducted in only rare circumstances and then only by a doctor after consulting with a police lawyer or the criminal Crown office.

If his recommendations are adopted, police officers would have to first obtain permission from the officer in charge of the division, then document all searches, the type of search they conducted and the reasons, and the result.

Ms. Sgro said this system would quickly identify those police officers who were using the policy to intimidate people. Under the proposed rules, officers who abused the policy would be disciplined.

Mr. Lyons found that, by law, police have the right to search people they detain. However, the reasons for a search must be related to the arrest and there must be a reasonable expectation that something has been hidden on the person being searched.

The new policy should require police to obtain a person's consent to a search, to inform the person of his or her right to refuse, and to provide interpreters if needed before a search.

One victim of a strip search was John Hanson, an international expert in reinsurance law, who was arrested and strip-searched after police mistook him for a man who had punched someone.

Strip Search Rules

  • Must be conducted in a private area;
  • Must be conducted by a police officer of the same sex as the person being searched;
  • Must be conducted in an efficient manner avoiding unnecessary body contact;
  • Person being searched must be permitted to dress immediately once the search is completed;
  • Must not involve a search of a person's body cavities;
  • Must not be conducted in the presence or view of a person whose presence is not necessary for the purpose of the search;
  • Must not involve the removal of more garments than necessary to determine whether a person has items searched for in his/her possession;
  • The number of officers involved in the search should be limited to two, unless the presence of additional members can be reasonably justified;
  • Person searched should be encouraged to remove their own clothing;
  • Physical force will be used only as a last resort to compel a search.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 8, 2000
Last modified: October 8, 2000
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