New & Notable: Strip searches and reliance of police on internal policy

Sang Eun Lee was arrested by the police and taken to the local station for breathalyzer tests. When a pat down search was conducted and it was discovered that she was wearing an underwire bra, she was told to remove it. She complied with the request, taking off her shirt and sweater along with the bra exposing her breasts for a brief period of time to the female officer who was present.


At trial, Ms. Lee was unsuccessful in establishing that the police conduct amounted to an unreasonable strip search contrary to section 8 of the Charter. She appealed her conviction and the finding of the trial judge: 2013 ONSC 1000.

Contrary to the trial judge, Fuerst J., sitting as a summary conviction appeal court judge, found that the conduct of the police did amount to a strip search:

Unfortunately, the trial judge failed to consider that the court’s definition of a strip search is not limited to removal of clothing to inspect a person’s private areas. The court’s definition of a strip search is two pronged: “[T]he 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…or undergarments” [emphasis added]. On the trial judge’s own findings, Constable Martin directed the appellant to remove her bra so that the police could visually inspect that undergarment, and then store it. This is not a case like R. v. Backhouse (2004), 194 C.C.C. (3d) 1 (Ont. C.A.) where the accused’s clothing was seized because it might yield forensic evidence of the crime charged. Constable Martin’s direction to the appellant to remove her bra fell squarely within the definition of a strip search [para 37].

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