Suspecting that Russell Stephen Patrick was operating an ecstasy lab in his Calgary home, police investigators looked through the contents of Mr. Patrick’s garbage on a number of occasions. Although the police did not set foot on Patrick’s property, they reached over his property line from a public alley behind his home. No warrant was obtained for this procedure, which was challenged as an “unreasonable search” within the meaning of Section 8 of the Charter.
Patricks arguments were unsuccessful at trial and in the Alberta Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld these decisions, finding that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in garbage bags which have been discarded at the curb and effectively abandoned:
“Objectively speaking, P abandoned his privacy interest in the information when he placed the garbage bags for collection at the back of his property adjacent to the lot line. He had done everything required of him to commit the bags to the municipal collection system. The bags were unprotected and within easy reach of anyone walking by in the public alleyway, including street people, bottle pickers, urban foragers, nosey neighbours and mischievous children, not to mention dogs and assorted wildlife, as well as the garbage collectors and the police. However, until garbage is placed at or within reach of the lot line, the householder retains an element of control over its disposition. It could not be said to have been unequivocally abandoned if it is placed on a porch or in a garage or within the immediate vicinity of a dwelling. Abandonment in this case is a function both of location and P’s intention.”
Given the court’s conclusion that Patrick lacked a reasonable privacy interest in the contents of the garbage bags, there was no violation of Section 8 and the evidence was deemed to be admissible.
Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on April 9, 2009.
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