Bradley Harrison and a friend were driving from Vancouver to Toronto in a rented SUV when an Ontario police officer stopped them for having no front license plate. Because the vehicle was registered in Alberta, there was no legal requirement that it have a front license plate. Despite this, the police officer continued the detention, questioning the accused and eventually searching the vehicle. This search yielded two cardboard boxes containing 35-kilograms of cocaine.
Although the traffic stop and resulting search was found to infringe Sections 8 and 9 of the Charter, the trial judge decided against excluding the evidence due to the seriousness of the offence. The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld this conclusion.
This was one of the first cases in which the Supreme Court of Canada applied the newly-articulated Grant standard for exclusion of evidence. Despite the relative deference to police actions embodied by this standard, the court concluded that the evidence in question must be excluded:
“To appear to condone wilful and flagrant Charter breaches amounting to a significant incursion on the accused’s rights does not enhance, but rather undermines, the long-term repute of the administration of justice. The trial judge’s reasoning transformed the s. 24(2) analysis into a simple contest between the degree of the police misconduct and the seriousness of the offence. He placed undue emphasis on the third line of inquiry while neglecting the importance of the other two, particularly the need to dissociate the justice system from flagrant breaches of Charter rights. Because the evidence in question was essential to the Crown’s case, the accused should be acquitted. The price paid by society for an acquittal in these circumstances is outweighed by the importance of maintaining Charter standards. Police officers are expected to adhere to higher standards than alleged criminals.”
Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on July 17, 2009.
Click here for the full text of the decision.