STRIP-SEARCHING OF WOMEN IN CANADA: WRONGS AND RIGHTS

Authors

  • Michelle PsutkaandElizabeth Sheehy

Keywords:

Crown, Judges, Remedies, Good Faith, Charter, Sexual Assault, Strip Search, Strip-searching, Strip searches, Golden, Arbour Inquiry, Wilful Blindness, Desjourdy, R v SB, Flintoff, Disciplinary Charges, Abuse of Power, Racism, Euteneir v Lee, Routine Policy, Transgender, Split-search, Split Search, Surveillance, Shared Facility, Border Search, Cavity Search, Role of, Prosecutors, Judiciary

Abstract

Illegal strip-searching of women, particularly by male police officers, remains a persistent problem in Canada, in spite of strong legal rulings that condemn this practice. The strip-searching of female detainees in the Prison for Women by male officers made national news in 1995. The Arbour Inquiry called these strip searches “cruel, inhumane and degrading” and determined that they violated the women’s Charter rights. Strip-searching re-emerged as a major law and policy issue in 2001, when the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Golden ruled that strip searches must not be carried out as routine policy, and specified a legal standard that must be met before a strip search can be undertaken, as well as 11 safeguards to which police must adhere to execute a lawful strip search. Yet in 2008, more than a decade after the Arbour Inquiry and seven years after Golden, another strip search of a woman detainee (SB) by male officers took place, making national news in 2010 when a court ordered release of the videotapes of the strip search and granted a stay of proceedings in consequence of the Charter violations. This article surveys the case law post-Golden in which women allege illegal strip-searching has occurred in order to assess the size of the problem, the forms that these Charter violations take, judicial responses to women’s claims, and whether and what remedies are provided. The authors argue that illegal strip-searching of women continues to occur in part because judges have failed to consistently and strongly condemn this form of police abuse, but also due to police resistance and their failure to meaningfully address police accountability through strong civilian complaints and police disciplinary processes. The authors conclude that it would be deeply disruptive of unauthorized police strip-searching of women if this practice were to be named sexual or criminal assault by judges.

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Published

2016-12-01

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