In certain situations, police have the right to search an individual and take their things. Under Section 8 of the Charter, everyone has the right to personal privacy and not to be searched or have things taken, without legal reasons.
The Charter protects people from “unreasonable searches and seizure”. This means that police need a legal reason to search someone and take their things. Like the rules for being detained, police need to take actions based on facts. Police may get a court order (called a warrant) permitting them to search a person or place, but there are circumstances when police may conduct a search without a warrant.
The police can search people or places without a warrant in the following circumstances:
- Investigative detention: the police may do a pat down search for their safety only. Unless they feel something that could be a weapon, they should not actually look in the person’s pockets. They should not search bags or vehicle either.
- Incident to arrest: if the police have legal grounds to make the arrest, they may also have the right to search the arrested person (and sometimes their belongings or vehicle) for the safety of the person and officers, to discover and protect evidence and other valid reasons related to the arrest.
- Consent: if a person agrees to let the police search them, their car, or their home, then the police can search! No one is required to agree to a search when they are asked. You can tell police, “I do not agree to a search.”
If the police search you, do not resist the search. If you resist you could be charged with a separate offence. Instead, state clearly that you do not consent to the search, try to remember as much as you can about what the police do, and tell your lawyer as soon as possible.