R. v. Chehil, 2013 SCC 49

The accused, Mandeep Singh Chehil, aroused the suspicion of police when he booked a one-way overnight flight from Vancouver to Halifax, travelling alone, paying cash for his ticket at the last minute, and checking one bag. Considering all of these factors, the police developed “reasonable suspicion” that Mr. Chehil was trafficking drugs and presented his checked bag to a sniffer dog. When the dog gave a positive indication for the presence of drugs, police opened the bag and discovered three kilograms of cocaine.

Mr. Chehil argued that police had breached his right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The trial judge agreed, excluding the Crown’s evidence under Section 24(2) of the Charter. The Court of Appeal overturned this conclusion, finding that the search was reasonable and ordering a new trial on the merits.

On further appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada found that police had reasonable suspicion, sufficient to justify the use of a drug detection dog. The reasonableness of such searches, the court concluded, depends on the totality of the circumstances informing police suspicion:

“Characteristics identified by a police profile can be considered when evaluating reasonable suspicion; however, profile characteristics are not a substitute for objective facts that raise a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The analysis must remain focused on one central question: is the totality of the circumstances, including the specific characteristics of the suspect, the contextual factors, and the offence suspected, sufficient to reach the threshold of reasonable suspicion?”

In light of the “constellation” of factors pointed to by police, the Supreme Court concluded that police had “reasonable suspicion” in Mr. Chehil’s case and were entitled to screen his luggage using a drug detection dog.

In light of this ruling, police across Canada will undoubtedly make increased use of sniffer dogs to check the luggage of travellers, potentially leading to “false hits,” thereby inconveniencing and humiliating innocent individuals. Furthermore, cunning drug traffickers will no doubt take note of this Supreme Court decision and its likely effect, and ensure that they do not match the “profile” of drug traffickers described by the courts.

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on September 27, 2013.
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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