R. v. Buhay, [2003] 1 SCR 631

The accused, Mervyn Allen Buhay, rented a locker at a bus depot in Winnipeg. When employees at the depot smelled marijuana emanating from the locker, they opened it with a master key and discovered a duffel bag containing marijuana. They subsequently called the police, who performed a warrantless search of the locker, and arrested the accused upon his return.

In regard to questioning about the absence of warrant, one police officer stated that it had not crossed his mind to apply for a warrant, while the other believed that a warrant was not necessary in order to search a rented locker.

The trial judge found a breach of Mr. Buhay’s rights under Section 8 of the Charter, excluded the evidence in question, and entered an acquittal on the charge of possession for the purpose of trafficking. The Manitoba Court of Appeal disagreed with the conclusion regarding evidentiary exclusion and substituted a conviction.

The Supreme Court of Canada restored the acquittal, finding that Mr. Buhay had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the locker, and that a certain deference must be showed to the trial judge’s view of the police officers’ behaviour:

“The administration of justice does not have to be brought into disrepute on a national scale before courts may interfere to protect the integrity of the process within which they operate.  While s. 24(2) is not an automatic exclusionary rule, neither should it become an automatic inclusionary rule when the evidence is non‑conscriptive and essential to the Crown’s case.  An appellate court must determine if, all factors considered, the trial judge’s conclusion to exclude the evidence, based on her or his finding that its admission would bring the  administration of justice into disrepute, was reasonable.  In light of the trial judge’s concern as to the long‑term effect of the law enforcement officers’ attitude in this case, it was well within his  judicial discretionary power to conclude that the admission of the marijuana in this case would cause greater disrepute to the justice system than its exclusion would, and such decision is very well within the limits of reasonableness.”

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on June 5, 2003.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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Filed under Section 24: Enforcement of Rights, Section 8: Search & Seizure

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