Search incident to an investigative detention – do police just get one kick at the can?

In R. v. McGuffie 2016 ONCA 365, the Ottawa Police Service received a telephone call at about 2:00 a.m. from security personnel at a downtown bar advising that a group of five men in the bar had been seen passing a handgun around. Several officers responded to the call. An officer arrived at the bar at about 2:07 a.m. Security staff were ushering the patrons out of the bar. Other officers were already present. The doorman identified two individuals as part of the group that had been passing the handgun around in the bar. McGuffie, one of those two men, walked away quickly from the bar. The officer followed him and caught up to McGuffie a short distance from the bar. He asked McGuffie why he was “running away from his friends?” McGuffie gave conflicting responses. The officer decided to detain him as he suspected McGuffie had the weapon seen earlier in the bar. The officer told McGuffie that he was being detained because he believed he had a handgun. McGuffie denied having a handgun.

The officer handcuffed McGuffie and conducted a “quick search to the vulnerable parts of his body“- a pat down of his waistband and waistline, which the officer described as a “cursory search“. Nothing turned up in the search. McGuffie was standing on the street when he was handcuffed and searched. The detaining officer placed McGuffie in the back of another officer’s police car, and the detaining officer returned to the bar to assist other officers in searching for the handgun. He said he was concerned about officer safety and was of the belief that the gun was in the bar. After what he said was a quick search of the bar, the detaining officer returned to the other officer’s car and said he told McGuffie that he was going to search him for a firearm since he said he found out it was a small gun easily hidden; 31 minutes had passed. He removed him from the cruiser and did a “quadrant search” – to be thorough. During the search, he found “a package of white powder in a rectangular shape” identified as cocaine (118.5 grams), which he said felt like the barrel of a gun; and approximately $600 cash in his pockets. He also found a small bag of marihuana in his pants pocket. He also found and seized a cell phone. The officer arrested McGuffie at 2.55 am for possession for the purpose of trafficking; this was some 30-35 minutes from the initial detention. McGuffie was also strip searched back at the station, which turned up 30.2 grams of crack cocaine. The courts also found issue with the strip search, but I will not be discussing that part of the appeal here. Part of the reason was that the handgun had been located previously by a K9 Unit.

The ONCA ruled that the initial detention of McGuffie on the street was a lawful exercise of the police power, but police infringed his s. 9 right by placing him in the cruiser for 30 minutes. He was effectively imprisoned from the moment he was handcuffed and placed in the cruiser and should have been advised that he had a right to speak to his lawyer. If McGuffie wanted to speak to a lawyer, police should have afforded him that opportunity without delay. McGuffie’s rights under s. 10(b) were breached. The initial pat down search of McGuffie on the street was reasonable and justified as an incident of his investigative detention. The second more thorough search of McGuffie was unlawful and unconstitutional. If there was any danger to the officer when he conducted the second search, it flowed directly from the unlawful detention of McGuffie and not from anything the officer was doing in the lawful exercise of his duty. If the arrest was unlawful, the search incidental to the arrest was unlawful and contrary to s. 8.  The ONCA excluded the evidence and acquitted McGuffie. According to the ONCA, the detaining officer seemed wholly unaware of, or worse yet, wholly unconcerned with, the limits of his powers to detain and search individuals. He was equally oblivious to his obligations under s. 10(b).

D.H. Doherty, for an unanimous court, said, in part:

“I would draw an analogy between searches that are said to be lawful as an incident of an arrest and safety searches which are said to be lawful as an incident of a lawful investigative detention. If the arrest is unlawful, the search incidental to the arrest is unlawful and contrary to s. 8 …. Similarly, if an investigative detention is unlawful, a safety search said to be justified on the basis of that detention must be unlawful and contrary to s. 8. …”

The court also recognized the interplay between investigative detention and the right to counsel. D.H. Doherty at para. 47:

“…It does …highlight the tension between the relatively brief duration of investigative detentions and the exercise of the right to counsel by persons being held under investigative detention. The submission assumes that the police can significantly prolong the detention if necessary to afford the detained person an opportunity to speak with counsel. I do not necessarily accept that submission. It may be that, if a police officer can afford a detained person an opportunity to exercise his s. 10(b) rights only by significantly prolonging an investigative detention, the police officer must release the detained person rather than breach s. 9 of the Charter. I leave that question for another case.”

Although not mentioned in the ONCA decision here, it seems to me at least that this issue was discussed in some length in Her Majesty the Queen v. Suberu [Indexed as: R. v. Suberu], 85 O.R. (3d) 127 some time ago. In that decision, it was discussed that a person who is under investigative detention and who after being advised of his or her right to counsel chooses to exercise that right, that person will almost inevitably end up suffering a longer detention and more intrusive state conduct than he or she would otherwise have endured. The court said that there can be a brief time span between an initial detention for investigative purposes and the administration of the s. 10(b) rights to reflect the nature of the vast majority of investigative detentions, in that they must be of a brief duration. The ONCA said that the police activity during the brief interlude contemplated by the words “without delay” must be truly exploratory in that the officer must be trying to decide whether anything beyond a brief detention of the person will be necessary and justified. If the officer has already made up his or her mind that the detained person will be detained for something more than a brief interval, there is no justification for not providing the individual with his or her right to counsel immediately. On appeal to the SCC (2009 SCC 33), the SCC rejected that approach, but the focus of the appeal seemed to be whether or not “advising” the person of his or her rights would cause a prolonged detention. Well, the SCC put that to rest when it ruled that the police duty to inform an individual of his or her s. 10(b) Charter right to retain and instruct counsel is triggered at the outset of an investigative detention. From the moment an individual is detained, s. 10(b) is engaged and the police have the obligation to inform the detainee of his or her right to counsel “without delay”. The immediacy of this obligation is only subject to concerns for officer or public safety, or to reasonable limitations that are prescribed by law and justified under s. 1 of the Charter.

So, alas, it seems that the question of whether or not it is a s. 9 Charter violation with regards to “implementing” the duties upon detention if the detainee chooses to exercise it and prolonging the detention to make that happen will have to be answered another day. The implementational obligation imposed on the police under s. 10(b) requires the police to provide the detainee with a reasonable opportunity to retain and instruct counsel. The content of the police duties under s. 10(b) was not at issue in the Suberu appeal, and it was not settled in McGuffie. However, it would be difficult to see it being anything but a s. 9 violation since in R. v. Mann 2004 SCC 52, the SCC said:

“…investigative concerns will usually justify only a brief detention following which the officer will either have to release the individual or, if reasonable and probable grounds exist, arrest the individual.”

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Filed under Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, Investigative Detention, Recent Case Law, Section 10 Charter

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