R. v. Paterson, [2017] 1 SCR 202

Police attended an apartment in response to an alleged domestic incident and noticed an odour of marijuana. Mr. Paterson, who answered the door, acknowledged that he was in possession of three marijuana roaches. Police demanded that he turn them over, on the understanding that they would seize the roaches without charging him. When Mr. Paterson “agreed to hand over the roaches and attempted to close the door, … Constable Dykeman blocked the door with his foot and said he would not let the appellant out of his sight.”

Two police officers forced their way into Mr. Paterson’s apartment, where they observed guns, drugs, cash, and a bulletproof vest. The question for the Supreme Court of Canada was whether this warrantless entry into a private apartment constituted an unreasonable search within the meaning of section 8 of the Charter, and whether the resulting evidence should be excluded pursuant to section 24(2) thereof.

The majority favoured a strict interpretation of the “exigent circumstances” requirement in s. 11(7) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, noting that such a requirement “denotes not merely convenience, propitiousness or economy, but rather urgency, arising from circumstances calling for immediate police action to preserve evidence, officer safety or public safety.”

Section 11(7) also requires the Crown to prove that the exigent circumstances in question made it “impracticable” to obtain a warrant; however, the impracticability of obtaining a warrant does not render the circumstances exigent: “‘Impracticability’, howsoever understood, cannot justify a warrantless search under s. 11(7) on the basis that it constitutes an exigent circumstance. Rather, exigent circumstances must be shown to cause impracticability.”

Similarly, officer safety could not be used to exigent circumstances where “concern for officer safety did not drive the decision to proceed with warrantless entry; rather, warrantless entry gave rise to concern for officer safety.”

Because the police conduct in this case represented “a serious departure from well-established constitutional norms,” the majority held that it was necessary to “disassociate the justice system from the police misconduct and reinforce the community‚Äôs commitment to individual rights … by excluding the evidence.”

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on March 17, 2017.
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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