Chief defends officers’ Charter rights training
Ottawa police chief
Ottawa’s police chief said he is satisfied with the training officers receive regarding Charter rights despite a pair of recent court decisions where cases involving a sawed-off shotgun and thousands of images of child porn were derailed because of illegal searches.
“Search and seizure is extremely complicated and becoming more complex,” said Charles Bordeleau.
“Officers are trying to do the best job they can under the circumstances when they are in the field, on the ground doing the work,” said Bordeleau, whose letter to the editor on the matter is published in Thursday’s Citizen. “We give them the tools to do the best job that they can and unfortunately things happen that don’t get the results that we expect.”
Bordeleau’s remarks come after two men were acquitted over a 10-day period of serious criminal charges after judges found they had been illegally searched.
In one case, the improper police search uncovered a sawed-off shotgun in a car; in the other, a thumb drive containing thousands of images of child pornography.
“I’m concerned that we’ve got, in at least these two cases, the outcome where we’ve seized a shotgun and we seized a thumb drive with serious pornography issues,” Bordeleau said. “Our desired outcome would be a conviction. I’m upset, disappointed, that we weren’t able to achieve that outcome. That is a concern to me, and I think it is a concern to the community as well.”
Acquittals as a result of Charter breaches are the exception, not the norm, Bordeleau said, and Ottawa police take breaches of Charter rights seriously. It is only a “handful” of the thousands of cases that are prosecuted every year that end with acquittals as a result of rights violations, he added.
‘Our desired outcome would be a conviction. I’m upset, disappointed, that we weren’t able to achieve that outcome.’
Bordeleau said that every case where an officer’s conduct is called into question is “automatically reviewed” and decisions made on how to address it, whether it be additional training or other remedies.
Bordeleau said Ottawa police officers are not required to take any mandatory refresher training specifically on Charter rights. Instead, the service relies on a variety of methods to keep officers aware of changes in the law. That can include basic or specialized investigative training, discussions on parade, peer-to-peer training and from computerbased training modules, Bordeleau said.
A committee of senior officers also routinely sends out bulletins to communicate judicial decisions or changes in case law regarding searches or other Charter issues, Bordeleau said. Crown prosecutors also inform police when they see issues that might require additional training.
University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen said the exclusion of evidence only occurs in the most serious cases.
“It’s not to protect the guilty. It’s to protect all of us that this remedy is sometimes available,” she said. “We impose consequences on law enforcement for illegal searches to protect all of the people who are searched illegally where no evidence is found, because those cases never come to the court,” said Mathen.
“You need to have a mechanism for bringing home to law enforcement that unlawful, unconstitutional behaviour has consequences.”