Search Warrants

Principles of a Search Warrant

Right to Counsel: Officers carrying out a search have the right to secure a potentially unstable situation before allowing any detained individual to exercise their right to counsel.

Place: Generally, a search warrant for a 'place' authorizes the search of specific areas and containers within that place.

Time: Unless explicitly stated on the warrant, all authorizations implicitly require the warrant to be executed 'within a reasonable timeframe of its issuance', typically on the same day it was issued. It's not inappropriate to allow a longer period, spanning several days, for the execution of the warrant.

“Thing” to be Searched for: A search warrant can only be used to seize tangible objects such as computer devices, motor vehicles, blood vials, DNA found on bandages, finger prints, articles worn by a person, and foreign objects found inside a person. Intangible items like money aren't applicable.

Electronic Devices: A warrant authorizing a residential search does not extend to the search of electronic devices found within the residence. Separate authorization is needed to search these devices, either through a different warrant or a specific clause in the residential warrant.

Motor Vehicles: Depending on the circumstances, a motor vehicle can be the object of the search or the location to be searched. If it's the object of the search, police can seize and examine it as necessary. If it's the place to be searched, it must be returned to the owner immediately after the search is complete.

Execution of Search Warrants

"Fellow Officer test": A search warrant should clearly indicate its scope in the main text without needing to refer to the Information To Obtain (ITO). It needs to pass the 'fellow officer' test, which means another officer should be able to understand what items are being searched for and where the search is to occur simply by reviewing the warrant itself.

Delivering a Copy of Warrant: Law enforcement is required to give a copy of the search warrant and a Form 5.1 to the individual “ostensibly in control” of the place being searched. If no one is present, the two documents must be placed in a prominent location. 

Single Entry and Exit Rule: A search warrant allows for a one-time entry into the specified location. However, once inside, the duration of the stay can be extended for a prolonged period of time.

Duration of Search: Once police officers enter a location within the timeframe specified in the warrant, the warrant stays in effect until the officers finish their search and finally exit the premises. The officers are permitted to stay on site past the initially authorized timeframe to complete the search.

However, after concluding the search, police officers must leave immediately. If they need to return, they would need a new authorization to do so.

Officer Safety: While carrying out a search warrant, police officers can conduct searches not specifically authorized in the warrant if these are necessary for their safety.

Wearing Masks During Search: The use of masks by police officers during a search does not make the search unreasonable or unjustifiable.

Residual Search Powers During Execution

An officer has the authority to search an outbuilding within the property of the residence to be searched, provided it's part of a 'security check.' However, an officer cannot search any individual found at the residence unless there are specific grounds to do so.

Additionally, police cannot detain someone merely for their presence inside a suspected drug house. Section 11(5) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) states that a search may be conducted if there's a belief that the person possesses drug-related property.

Seizure of Evidence

Any time an officer seized evidence, apart from records or documents, either through a search warrant or during a search incident, they must submit an initial Report To Justice in accordance with Section 489.1. This applies even if there are no immediate plans to file charges.

If the seized property needs to be retained for a period exceeding 30 days without any charges being filed, the officer must also seek a Detention Order from a justice or a judge.

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