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Search for drugs ruled unlawful: trafficking charges dropped

Police officers must often rely on their instincts to tell them when something does not look right. Sometimes though, gut feelings need to be held in check by the letter of the law. Simple suspicion is not reason enough to detain a person without just cause. In the case of a search for drugs east of Toronto, a judge recently ruled in favour of a defendant when the search was deemed to be the result of profiling.

A Durham Regional Police officer pulled over what he claimed was a suspicious-looking vehicle in Whitby, Ontario, in Sept. 2014. A black man was driving the car, and a younger-looking white woman was his passenger. The officer found indications of drug use in the car and called for backup before conducting a search of the vehicle. After the search revealed marijuana, crack and powder cocaine, along with tabs of Oxycocet, the officers on the scene arrested the pair, and they were charged with four counts of possessing controlled substances for the purposes of trafficking.

The vehicle in question had been spotted on a Sunday afternoon in an area reputedly known for prostitution and drug use. Allegedly concerned for the young woman's safety, the officer ran the car's plates and found that neither of them matched the description of the registered owner. Based on this information, the officer moved to intercept the vehicle.

The defense for the accused argued the officer violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by stopping the vehicle without cause, that the subsequent search for drugs was illegal and the evidence inadmissible. The judge agreed with counsel and excluded the evidence. When prosecutors failed to provide any further evidence, the case was dismissed. In his ruling, the judge noted the officer took advantage of the situation when the search was performed.

Despite the presence of narcotics in the vehicle, the accused are citizens of Canada, protected by the Charter. While the officers have a duty to protect the Ontario public, they are required to do so without violating the rights of any individual. A good defence team will see to it that a person accused of a serious crime receives fair treatment from the judicial system.

Source: torontostar.com, "Judge drops drug charges in Whitby case after ruling police stop was racial profiling", Madeline Smith, August 2, 2016

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