The Police Strip Searched Me – Is That Allowed?

PUBLISHED ON February 16, 2024

What is written below provides a brief and general explanation of the law surrounding police strip searches and how, when they are conducted, a criminal case may be affected. This is not legal advice and is not intended to be so. Should you require legal advice about your case, you should consult with a criminal defence lawyer.

When are the police allowed to strip-search a person?

A strip search refers to “the removal or rearrangement of some or all of the clothing of a person so as to permit a visual inspection of a person’s private areas, genitals, buttocks, breasts, or undergarments.” Each year, thousands of strip searches are conducted by police officers in Ontario. These “inherently humiliating and degrading” searches are, in some circumstances, valid. As section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that “everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure”, the prosecution must show that the search was reasonable. There must be a compelling, lawful reason to conduct a strip search. Given the level of intrusion, strip searches should not be carried out “routinely.”  

Search Incident to Arrest

One example of when police may be permitted to conduct a search is after a person has been arrested. In order for a strip search incident arrest to be constitutionally valid, there are three conditions:

(1) The arrest itself must be lawful, and the strip search must be conducted for the purposes of discovering weapons or evidence related to the arrest;

(2) There must be reasonable and probable grounds to justify the strip search in addition to those that justified the arrest. In other words, as a strip search is a significant interference with one’s dignity and freedom, there must be a higher justification for doing it;

(3) The search must be conducted in a reasonable manner that does not infringe on Section 8 Charter rights.

The courts will look at the circumstances surrounding the arrest, including the type of case. As an example, the discovery of a significant quantity of drugs and a loaded handgun has been found to create a lawful basis for the police to search an accused for weapons or evidence. In terms of how a strip search is to be conducted and whether it was conducted in a reasonable manner, the Courts have held that strip searches were proper when the police had the accused remove his own clothes, one layer at a time and where no physical contact was made with the accused.  

Custodial Strip Search

While the Courts have held that the police are entitled to strip search incidents to arrest to search for weapons or other evidence related to the offence, they are also allowed to strip search when a person is going into a custodial setting for reasons unrelated to the offence for which they were arrested. The police are permitted to conduct a custodial strip-search where an accused is entering a jail setting where they will be held in custody with others to ensure they are not concealing drugs/weapons on their person upon entry. 

What if it Was Not Reasonable for the Police To Strip Search Me?

Should the Court find that the strip search was not lawfully permitted and was in violation of section 8 of the Charter, the Court will consider a remedy under the Charter. Such a remedy could include a stay of proceedings or, alternatively, the exclusion of evidence. 

Should you be charged with a criminal offence where the police conducted a strip search, contact a criminal defence lawyer to receive legal advice for a consultation with Brian Ross. Call (416) 658-5855.

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Brian Ross is a founding partner at Canada’s largest criminal Law firm, Rusonik, O’Connor, Robbins, Ross & Angelini, LLP. Prior to founding this firm, Brian was a partner at Pinkofskys, a leading law firm famous for its vigorous defence of its clients.

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