KAWARTHA LAKES-The Kawartha Lakes Police Service does approximately 12 strip searches per year.
Officials say they are usually done during the course of drug arrests. Inspector Tom Hickey told the Police Services Board today that just yesterday the service performed two strip searches. “They are mostly done in drug arrests where substances can be hidden in either their pants or other spots that aren’t as convenient to search.” Hickey explained.
A strip search is defined as the removal or rearrangement of some or all of someone’s clothing to allow for an officer to visually inspect their genitals, buttocks, breasts or undergarments.
The Office of the Independent Review Director OIPRD)recently sent a letter to the Kawartha Lakes Police Service asking them to update their policies surrounding strip searches.The OIPRD is responsible for receiving, managing and overseeing all public complaints about municipal, regional and provincial police in Ontario.
On March 22, 2019, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) released the systemic review “Breaking the Golden Rule: A Review of Police Strip Searches in Ontario.” As part of the OIPRD’s mandate to monitor and respond to systemic policing issues, the then Interim Director, contacted police services to determine the progress made since the release of the report.
“Based on the responses received from Ontario police services, we found that many services have attempted to ensure their policies are consistent with the report recommendations, but there were still significant differences throughout the province. The responses highlighted that the next steps required to safeguard proper strip searches in Ontario cannot be achieved through the OIPRD’s powers. For this reason, we have forwarded our findings to the Ministry of the Solicitor General to continue the work and provide greater clarity regarding police strip searches in Ontario.” said the letter.
In R. v. Golden,  3 S.C.R. 679, the Supreme Court of Canada said it recognized that strip searches are inherently humiliating and degrading for detainees and for that reason, cannot be carried out simply as a matter of routine policy or automatically when an arrest is made. Following the Golden decision, a number of police services introduced policies to govern how and when strip searches (sometimes referred to as Level 3 searches) are to be conducted according to the OIPRD.
“Over 15 years after the Golden decision was released, the OIPRD continues to receive public complaints about police conducting strip searches as a matter of routine or in apparent violation of police policies. As well, in too many Ontario criminal cases, judges have found that the police conducted improper strip searches, sometimes in apparent disregard or ignorance of policies that require a case-by-case risk assessment.” said Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director.
The report also recommends that police services keep race-related statistics on strip searches to enable an evidence-based evaluation of the role that race plays in decisions to conduct strip searches.
“Police in Ontario conduct well over 22,000 strip searches a year. It is extremely concerning that almost two decades after the Golden decision, police continue to conduct strip searches in violation of the law. This comes at a high cost to those directly affected by humiliating and intrusive searches and to the justice system, especially where unlawful searches result in the exclusion of evidence or the staying of charges. Consistent, comprehensive policies and procedures, proper documentation, adequate statistics, and effective training are all required to ensure strip searches are only done when needed, and that they are done in accordance with the law.” McNeilly said in 2019.
Mitchell explained the safeguards in place locally to ensure the dignity of the suspect being searched.
“The general suggestion is that strip searches should be audio recorded but for obvious reasons not video recorded. We also try to have an officer of the same sex and secondary officer in the room, which is private, but there are some circumstances where the search must be completed in the field.”
Mitchell says that as a result of the letter, the KLPS has updated its wording and policies to align with suggestions in the OIPRD report.
The report said every police service in Ontario should incorporate training on strip searches into their annual or biennial training. The training should include a review of all aspects of R. v. Golden and other relevant information, as well as scenarios and experiential training so that officers practice articulating grounds and conducting a strip search in a variety of situations. It also recommended every police services board in Ontario should ensure that their policies provide appropriate direction to police services on (a) the creation or modification of procedures to fully address strip searches, and (b) the training respecting strip searches.
Chief Mitchell says the service has not had any complaints relating to strip searches.