Search warrants and typographical errors

R. v. Campbell 2018 NSCA 42 – police executed a search warrant at a home in Brooklyn, N.S. The respondent was subsequently charged with drug and firearm offences. The respondent challenged the validity of the search warrant. He submitted the warrant was fundamentally flawed on its face and, as such, the search undertaken of his home constituted a breach of his right under s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. He further argued that the evidence collected by virtue of the search ought to be excluded.

In challenging the warrant, the respondent did not suggest that the information contained in the Information to Obtain (ITO) did not give rise to reasonable grounds to believe evidence of an offence would be found at his residence. The sole basis of the respondent’s challenge was in relation to an error on the face of the warrant itself. He submitted this error alone was sufficient to render it invalid.

Police had responded to a call earlier in the day from the general public about a male walking down the road with a shotgun. Arriving on scene, police observed a male entering a mini-home on Gaspereau River Road, Brooklyn, N.S., carrying a firearm. Police followed him to the mini-home and arrested the man for firearm related offences. The first male was taken to the police station for further questioning. A search of the property was subsequently undertaken by three officers for public and officer safety. Cannabis plants were located in the kitchen and in a greenhouse in the backyard. Officers also found an unsecured .22 caliber rifle next to the cannabis plants in the greenhouse. The police officers left the residence and began conducting surveillance while awaiting a search warrant to be approved. During the surveillance period, a second male (the respondent) arrived and advised the officers that he lived at the mini-home. He was arrested and transported to the police station as well. The search warrant was approved by a Justice of the Peace

The error?

This warrant may be executed between the hours of 6:00 p.m. on the 7th day of May, 2016 and 9:00 p.m. on the 7th day of January, 2016.

Maybe a ‘cut and paste’ error, or the wording in a prior template (search warrant) not being corrected (my thoughts, not the court’s).  Of course, the question to address was, “Was this merely a typographical error, or was it a serious fundamental defect that makes the warrant invalid?”  The NSCA discussed that the trial judge was well aware that a warrant could contain a typographical error which would not impact on its presumptive validity. However, some errors went beyond such harmless errors and may be problematic. The trial judge clearly understood that some errors on the face of a warrant could be trivial and did not import into her reasoning a standard of facial perfection.

Where a search warrant appears regular and valid on its face, issued by the proper justice, it represents, until quashed by subsequent proceedings, full authority to the officer in entering, searching and detaining goods according to its terms and directions. The search warrant should, on its face, appear to be issued in the form prescribed by the statute, and issued by the proper court officer, in order to the officer to act upon it. The executing officer will then be justified in carrying out its mandate even though the information may have been legally insufficient to authorize the issuing of the search warrant, and even though the search warrant might be set aside if an application is made (cited from Fontana and Keeshan in The Law of Search & Seizure in Canada, 8th ed. at page 61).

At para. 36 in Campbell:

Implicit …..is the expectation that an executing officer should assure him or herself that they are about to act in accordance with the terms of the warrant. That necessitates that they read it. Here, the warrant was not “regular” on its face — it contained an obvious error with respect to the time frame for execution. It was well within the purview of the trial judge to infer either that the obvious error was not noted by police, or conversely, they acted on it notwithstanding the error. No evidence was offered to explain why or how the police acted in the face of an obvious error on the warrant.

Due to the negligence of the police in obtaining and executing the search warrant, the resulting grow op and firearms evidence was excluded.

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