In ALG Blog
Photo: Naked Women in Istanbul by Robin Robokow (CC BY 2.0) http://naaristanbul.nl/photos/

 

We’ve all had the naked dream. The one where you wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming of being naked in a roomful of strangers. It is awkward and embarrassing.  Canadian police have the power to make that nightmare come true. An order to remove your clothes is still a lawful investigative tool.

We’ve all had the naked dream. The one where you wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming of being naked in a roomful of strangers. It is awkward and embarrassing.  Canadian police have the power to make that dream come true. An order to remove your clothes is still a lawful investigative tool.

While there are practical reasons for the police to check under clothing for weapons, evidence or contraband, the courts have tried to contain the strip search. It started with a recognition that being ordered to disrobe is humiliating for the person who has to get naked. From there, judges built rules to  guide the police. Some police services, including Torontoand Vancouver, created their own protocols. The police must be able to justify the search and carry it out in a private room with same-sex officers.

In a recent case, the Toronto Police failed to follow their own rules. They ignored the Supreme Court’s rules. Justice David Cole, an experienced trial judge, called them on it. He said the prosecution could not go ahead.

Justice Cole’s decision has been publicly criticized. But in deciding the strip search was a legal show-stopper, Judge Cole was on firm ground. The Courts have been sending the same message for years. Sometimes it is routinely stripping someone who passes through a police station on a drunk driving charge, women wearing underwire bras or protestorswho need to be taught some respect for authority.

Why did this case go wrong? The child apparently had a gun in his backpack at school. By the time he was strip searched at a police station the emergency situation had long passed. The rules around strip searches exist because there is no way to repair the damage of a humiliating search. Enforcement of the rules has to be strict enough to discourage unnecessary use of this naked state power.

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