Sidebar from the Reeves decision…worthy of a post

I didn’t want to take away from the “consent” issue/debate in the Reeves decision by cluttering it with a couple of other issues that require their own post.  Of note in Reeves was whether the police infringed Reeves’s Charter rights by entering the shared home without a warrant. This issue was not fully canvassed by the majority since it was not the main issue on appeal (Reeves conceded during oral submissions before the Court that he was not challenging the police entry into the Reeves-Gravelle residence). That being said, Justice M.J. Moldover, concurring with the majority, took some time to address the issue and I believe it’s something worthy for officers to appreciate. Justice Moldover wanted to express some tentative views on the issue of police entry into a shared residence, a matter of considerable importance to the administration of criminal justice — and one which Parliament has to date left unaddressed.  Justice Moldover felt that this is an important issue for debate since the police entry into the Reeves-Gravelle residence on the strength of Gravelle’s consent was the catalyst giving rise to a chain of events that culminated in the discovery of child pornography on the shared computer. If the entry contravened s. 8, it follows that the evidence discovered during the search of the computer was “obtained in a manner that infringed or denied” Reeves’s rights, bringing it within s. 24(2)’s exclusionary reach.

Further, Justice Moldover wrote that the legality of the police entry has implications beyond the four corners of this case. Police frequently attend residences to investigate suspected or ongoing criminal activity. Many of those residences are inhabited by more than one person with authority to permit third parties to enter the home. Counsel’s concession that police entry into a shared residence is not a “search” therefore has the potential to affect a large swath of Canadian society by shifting our understanding of the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure. Do police have the authority to enter the shared residence at common law under the ancillary powers doctrine, to take a statement, for example?

Consider a situation where a complainant calls the police and informs us that her partner has physically abused her but has left the house. There is no emergency that would allow the police to enter the home under the emergency search power articulated in Godoy. Without each occupant’s consent, the police would be unable to enter the home. At present, the police would appear to have two options. They could ask the complainant, who has just been assaulted, to suffer the embarrassment of speaking to the police outside of her home — a request that could understandably be met with a refusal. Or, we could try to obtain the consent from the co-resident who allegedly perpetrated the abuse — an exercise almost guaranteed to prove futile. Or a situation after being called by a resident who reports a theft of property from a home she shares with six roommates, are we required to (1) determine how many people live in the home, and (2) seek out and obtain the consent of each before entering the home to take a statement? In each of the foregoing examples, short of intruding on the co-resident’s expectation of privacy, we would effectively be powerless to investigate the reported criminal offences.

Our homes have the potential to reveal the most intimate details about our personal lives. Individuals therefore typically have a heightened expectation of privacy within their homes. That said, five constraints on the police entry power that Justice Moldover articulated to minimize the extent of the interference with that expectation, inlcude:

  1. First, the police must query whether conducting the interview in the person’s home is necessary. If, after being presented with the option of having the interview at home or elsewhere, the person is ambivalent as to where it takes place, then the interview should be conducted outside the home. On the other hand, if the person indicates a preference to speak with the police at home, the police may act upon that preference. They need not attempt to weigh the strength of the person’s conviction not to be interviewed outside the home. Nor ought the police to cross-examine the person about his or her underlying fears and motivations, in an effort to determine whether the person will leave the home if pressed or cajoled.
  2. Second, the scope of the entry power would be narrowly tailored to its purpose. Courts regularly focus on the purpose of a particular police action to evaluate its legality. For example, in Evans, this Court held that residents are deemed to grant the public, including police, an implied licence to approach their home and knock. However, the police may only approach a residence under the implied licence to knock doctrine if their purpose in approaching is to communicate with an occupant: Evans, at paras. 13-16. Similarly, a search incident to arrest is only lawful if the purpose of the search relates to the purpose of the arrest: R. v. Caslake, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 51, at paras. 19-25. The purpose of the entry power that I am articulating is to take one or more statements in connection with a criminal investigation, whether from the authorizing resident, or from other willing occupants, as the authorizing resident may permit. Absent further lawful authority, the legality of the entry ends when the police exceed that purpose. To be precise, the police may not go further and lawfully search the residence or seize evidence from it unless they obtain the necessary grounds in the course of taking the statement or statements.
  3. Third, the police would only be permitted to enter the common areas of the home. This too flows from the purpose of the entry. Because the police are only in the residence to take a statement, there is no need to enter any private areas, such as bedrooms, where a resident’s expectation of privacy is generally at its highest. In contrast, each co-resident has a reduced expectation of privacy in common areas of their home.
  4. Fourth, the police can only enter if invited in by an occupant with the authority to consent. Unlike many of the other statutory and common law police entry powers, forced entry would be strictly prohibited. Furthermore, the consent must be voluntary and informed, and the resident’s consent must be continuous and may therefore be revoked. The police must respect the resident’s wishes if he or she revokes the consent.
  5. Fifth, the entry would only be for a limited duration. If, after taking the statement, or statements, the police do not obtain the requisite grounds to undertake any further investigative action, they must immediately leave the residence.

To summarize, the common law police power that Justice Moldover tentatively described to allow a narrow entry power to take a statement from an individual with the authority to grant police entry, or from other willing occupants, as the authorizing resident may permit, has five criteria:

(1) The police must offer the authorizing resident, and any other cooperating occupants, a suitable alternative interview location — if one is available — that does not potentially intrude upon the reasonable expectations of privacy of co-residents in their home. (2) The purpose of the entry must be limited to taking a statement, or statements, from the authorizing resident, or one or more willing occupants, in connection with a criminal investigation. The police may not go further and search for or seize evidence unless they obtain the necessary grounds to do so in the course of taking the statement or statements. (3) The police are only permitted to enter the home’s common areas into which they have been invited. (4) The police can only enter if invited in by a resident with the authority to consent and that consent must be voluntary, informed and continuous. (5) Unless the police obtain the necessary grounds to take further investigative action, the duration of the entry must be limited to taking a statement, or statements, from the authorizing resident, or one or more willing occupants.

Another interesting tidbit from the Reeves decision was from Justice Cote, concurring with the majority:

“Nevertheless, even though I am of the view that the entry into the home and the seizure of the computer were both lawful, I would still exclude the evidence under s. 24(2) of the Charter based on the other violations of law in this case — specifically, the fact that the police failed to comply with ss. 489.1 and 490 of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, by improperly detaining the computer and the fact that the search warrant was ultimately found to be invalid.”

Don’t forget or neglect to file the Report to Justice and Detention Order!

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