R. v. MacKenzie, 2013 SCC 50

Benjamin Cain MacKenzie was subject to a traffic stop, during which police developed a suspicion that he was trafficking drugs. The factors pointed to by the officers on the scene were Mr. MacKenzie’s “erratic manner of driving, high level of nervousness, the pinkish hue of his eyes, his course of travel and contradictory answers on his travel dates.”

As a result of these factors, the police made use of drug-sniffing dog, which supported their suspicions. A search of the vehicle yielded 31.5-lbs. of marijuana.

The trial judge found a breach of Mr. MacKenzie’s Charter rights and ordered that the evidence against him be excluded. This finding was overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, which concluded that police had acted reasonably.

On final appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, a 5-to-4 majority of the court found that the observations of police were sufficient to ground “reasonable suspicion” for a sniffer dog to be employed. This appeal was more contentious than its companion case (R. v. Chehil, 2013 SCC 49), in which the court unanimously rejected the accused’s appeal.

In a dissenting opinion, Mr. Justice LeBel concluded that it was inappropriate for police to “simply draw on their experience in the field to create broad categories of ‘suspicious’ behaviour into which almost anyone could fall.” Based on the court’s unanimous conclusion in Chehil and majority conclusion in MacKenzie, however, it seems that this is exactly how Canadian police will now proceed.

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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