A Step Back from the Surveillance Society
The Canadian Supreme Court has just ruled against the police randomly using sniffer dogs to search for contraband in public places. The police had come to believe they could walk their sniffer dogs in public place in the vague hope of catching some individuals with illegal substances, particularly drugs.The Court has ruled that this is illegal as it violated the individual's protection against unreasonable search of seizure. (Article 8) Random use of police sniffer dogs breaches charter: top court
This judgement was wrought on the bases of two cases brought before it. One was the police being invited into a school to routinely search for drugs and the other was the use of sniffer dogs randomly in a bus depot. In both cases, they found drugs in the possession of individuals. This use of sniffer dogs was ruled illegal.
If you want to read the actual judgement view it here. Supreme Court of Canada - Decisions - R. v. A.M. It is always interesting to read the reasons and the dessenting opinions.
The use of sniffer dogs are not totally banned. The Supreme Court did make a compromise. In order to use sniffer dogs the police do not have to acquire a warrant first, but they do have to have reasonable suspicions that there is contraband to be found. They will have to convince a judge, if a case goes to trial, that they had good and specific reasons to use sniffer dogs in the case.
There is also an exception to this ruling. It is in airports they can still use sniffer dogs. The concern for security is justified in limiting the individuals right.
Needless to say the police are not pleased with this ruling. They believe the random use of sniffer dogs makes their work easier. Tough! (I guess my lack of respect for police is showing.) The law does not exist to serve the police. If it did the ultimate society would be a police state. The law exists to protect society and the individual, in part protection from illegitimate authority over our lives. The police have lots of latitude to do their job.
We are living in a time when a lot of individual rights and liberties have been sacrificed for security. After 9/11 when the Canadian government brought in security laws hastily out of fear and arm twisting by the even more fearful Americans. Now, hopefully, the pendulum can swing back again in defense of the rights and security of the individual.
Canadian Supreme Court in all their resplendent regalia.
It is interesting to note how different Canada's Supreme Court is compared with the United States Supreme Court. Besides, on formal occasions, dressing up like Santa's helpers rather than wear the dour black robes of their American counterparts, the Canadian Court is substantially different. It is generally more progressive in matters of social judgements. Perhaps, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms are basically different from the American 's Bill of Rights. I don't think so. I think they reflect ,and sometime lead, Canada's more liberal and secular acceptance of differences. This is the court which brought us same sex marriage, and will eventually uphold decriminalizing marijuana when the Liberals once again displace the current Conservative government.
Unlike the American Supreme Court, Canada's Court has women as four of the nine judges and the Chief Justice is a woman, The Right Honourable Beverley Maclaughlin. This balance of gender is a good step forward. There is also some balance in religion, Protestant, Catholic, Jew This could be broadened. It is certainly lacking in ethnic balance. This should be the next significant improvement in our Supreme Court.