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Generation and Deployment of Common Law Police Powers by Canadian Courts and the Double-Edged Charter

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In recent years, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) has been relied on increasingly by Canadian courts to bolster common law police powers, often at the expense of due process. Ostensibly, the courts have shown more concern with the administration of the limits of policing than with the delineation of civil liberties. In this article, we trace the evolution of the interpretation of the Charter in this context, with early decisions suggesting a reluctance to create ex post facto police powers. The article then outlines the acceleration of judicial proliferation of common law police powers in Canada, cloaked in the veil of the Charter. In other words, unauthorized police conduct is legitimized by the courts on an ad hoc basis, so long as it is ultimately justifiable. We then discuss the findings of our own research into this phenomenon and comment on the possible implications that increasingly expansive common law police powers created by courts have had on due process in Canada, and the administrative role of the Supreme Court of Canada in mobilizing civil rights protections in the direction of state surveillance.

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  1. Recently, the Court has articulated instances where race-based decision-making does not amount to investigative detention and is arbitrary under Section 9 of the Charter in R v Le (2019). In this case, a slim 3-2 majority noted that the focus of Section 9 analysis should be on “how the police behaved and, considering the totality of the circumstances, how such behavior would be reasonably perceived” (¶ 116), and that race alone as a justification for detention would mean that “the police had no reasonable suspicion of recent or ongoing criminal activity” (¶ 133).


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The authors acknowledge the support of the Legal Research Institute at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Law for support of this project.

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Correspondence to Richard Jochelson.

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Jochelson, R., Ireland, D., Ziegler, R. et al. Generation and Deployment of Common Law Police Powers by Canadian Courts and the Double-Edged Charter. Crit Crim 28, 107–126 (2020).

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