Police Should Find Real Crimes to Solve in Halifax

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A police review board that fails to condemn police violations of civilliberties emboldens police to intrude even further upon the rights ofcitizens.

Last week, the Nova Scotia Police Review Board endorsed a Halifax RegionalPolice strip search of thirty-four citizens working at a dance. The policehad a warrant, based on a dubious informant, to search the dance hall for abottle of ecstasy pills supposedly hidden in the ceiling. When they foundnothing, the cops proceeded to strip search everyone present.

The board justified this humiliating excess on the grounds that “theonly logical” possibility was that someone present had hidden thedrugs on their person — patently false, given that the strip searchturned up no ecstasy. The board declined to consider whether the charterprotection against arbitrary search and seizure applied.

A stupid ruling begets stupider police thinking.

Sunday's Daily News canvassed legal opinion as to what people shoulddo if police with a warrant to search a public building demand to stripeveryone inside.

Most of the lawyers said citizens needn’t comply with a search demandunless they are arrested, and they can’t be arrested without reasonableand probable grounds they have committed an offence. The lawyers suggestedcitizens ask politely whether they are under arrest, and if not, decline tosubmit.

“Then you’d probably get placed under arrest,” said policespokeswoman Sgt. Brenda Zima. “Certainly, that’s not something wewould encourage. It’s not advisable, put it that way.”

In other words, the mere assertion of one’s constitutional rights mayprovoke arrest.

“That’s an outrageous statement by a spokesperson for a policedepartment in a democratic society,” said Dalhousie law professorArchie Kaiser. “If you stand by your right to be left alone, you aresomehow doing something suspicious.”

It’s not unheard of for police to consider the assertion ofconstitutional rights as grounds for arrest.

Toronto police investigating suspicious baby deaths at Toronto’s SickChildren’s Hospital in 1981 interviewed a young nurse named SusanNelles. Nelles co-operated, but when the officers’ aggressivequestioning made her feel like a suspect, she asked to see a lawyer andrefused to answer any further questions.

The cops arrested her, explaining later that her insistence on seeing alawyer aroused their suspicions. That faulty logic led them, and the justicesystem, down a costly blind alley that would become a case study inprosecutorial incompetence. A royal commission later exonerated Nelles.

Now consider Tantallon RCMP, which hassled nudists last summer at CrystalCrescent beach, where a remote stretch of sand has been a skinny-dippinghaven for decades.

The Mounties arrested five people, and served thirty others with noticesunder the Protection of Property Act barring them from the beach. Last week,director of public prosecutions Martin Herschorn, whose permission isrequired before charges of public nudity can proceed, wisely withheld thatconsent, killing the case.

Undeterred, the Tantallon Mounties’ prude squad vows to continuehanding out warnings and ordering skinny dippers to suit up. This isoutrageous. The duly constituted authority has concluded that nude bathersare committing no crime. End of case. Find some real police work to do.

Whatever their personal view of nudists or rave dancers, police shouldrespect the law. Their overseers should demand nothing less.

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