R. v. Caslake, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 51

The accused, Terence Lawrence Caslake, was lawfully arrested for possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. Several hours later, an RCMP officer conducted an inventory search of Mr. Caslake’s vehicle, without obtaining a warrant, and discovered some cash along with two packages of cocaine.

When Mr. Caslake challenged the search as a breach of Section 8 of the Charter, the Crown claimed that it was a lawful search “incident to arrest,” as described in Cloutier v. Langlois. A majority of the Supreme Court of Canada rejected this argument on the basis that the purpose of the search was not truly incidental to arrest, but instead intended to inventory the contents of the vehicle:

“A police search of the car for the purpose of finding evidence which could be used at the accused’s trial on the charge of possessing marijuana for purposes of trafficking would have been well within the scope of the search incident to arrest power, as there was clearly sufficient circumstantial evidence to justify a search.  However, the police cannot rely on the fact that, objectively, a legitimate purpose for the search existed when that is not the purpose for which they searched.  Agents of the state must act in accordance with the rule of law.  Hence, they must not only objectively search within the permissible scope but also turn their mind to this scope before searching, and satisfy themselves that there is a valid purpose for the search.  Here, the purpose of the search was to inventory the contents of the vehicle which falls outside the bounds of the legitimate purposes of search incident to arrest.”

Despite this conclusion, the court found that the Charter breach in question was not sufficiently serious to justify excluding the evidence against Mr. Caslake:

“First, the evidence was non‑conscriptive and would have no effect on the fairness of the trial.  Second, the breach was not serious.  The  inobtrusiveness of the search, the individual’s low expectation of privacy in the area searched, the existence of reasonable and probable grounds and the good faith of the police all pointed in favour of admitting the evidence.  Finally, excluding the evidence would have a more serious impact on the repute of the administration of justice than admitting it for the prosecution had no case without the evidence.”

Caslake stands for the proposition that although police are expected to exercise their search powers for a lawful purpose, the exercise of lawful search powers for an unlawful purpose will not necessarily justify the exclusion of evidence against the accused.

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on January 22, 1998.
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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