Keep your pants on.
That’s the least you should be able to do when you’re brought into a police station.
But because a OPP officer forced a man to take off his trousers — claiming the drawstring at the waist posed a danger — an Ontario court judge has thrown out the impaired driving case against Peter Ese-Osa Uhuangho.
“I consider that the manner in which the defendant was strip searched and subsequently remained in a state of undress while being investigated and asked to provide breath samples, all the while being videotaped at the police station, constitutes a gross affront to his human dignity,” said Justice Rick Libman in a recent decision.
“In short, removing a detainee’s pants and leaving the person in their underwear and top, whatever its length, while investigating him, much less administering a test to determine his blood alcohol concentration, is humiliating, degrading and unreasonable. It follows that it is also highly offensive to the community’s sense of fair play and decency. As a result, a stay of proceedings is an appropriate remedy in the circumstances of this case.”
The judge went further, finding the OPP officer lied about why the man’s pants were removed: “Most egregiously,” Libman wrote, Uhuangho was “being falsely accused of urinating in his pants as a pretext for removing them. In light of all the circumstances, this is one of the clearest of cases where a stay of proceedings is warranted.”
In the early hours of Aug. 1, 2016, an OPP officer responded to a crash on Highway 401 just east of Keele St.
After smelling of alcohol and failing a roadside breath test, Uhuangho was arrested for driving over 80 and taken to the OPP detachment.
The booking officer told the court that Uhuangho, 55, was uncooperative, verbally aggressive and rude. When asked to remove the draw string from his pants because it posed a “choking hazard,” he said the man became belligerent and suddenly took off his pants which were soaked with urine.
Uhuangho, a psychiatric nurse, told a far different story.
He testified that the draw string was sewn into his pants and when he told them that he couldn’t take it out, the police ordered him to strip them off. He felt “exposed” and “totally embarrassed and shocked” as he stood there in his underwear with officers – including a female – laughing at him. He was kept in that state of undress for hours, with no one offering him a blanket or anything else to reduce his humiliation. As a result, he said, he was angry and refused to co-operate and provide breath samples.
The judge believed Uhuangho and found the OPP violated his constitutional right against unreasonable search – and then lied to justify it. “To claim falsely, then, that it was necessary to remove a detainee’s pants due to being soaked in urine is odious, and an affront to the administration of justice. It is calculated to portray this detainee in the most unflattering of lights.”
This case follows many others where the police have been condemned from the judicial bench for continuing their practise of illegal strip searches. In a landmark 2001 decision called R v Golden, the Supreme Court ruled strip searches are “inherently humiliating and degrading” and “of such invasive character” that they can’t be carried out simply as a matter of routine policy.
And yet they continue and too many cases are being thrown out as a result.
Last year, Justice Elaine Deluzio stayed impaired driving charges against a woman after she was ordered to remove her underwire bra by OPP officers outside Belleville.
Also last year, Justice Joseph Bovard threw out crack possession charges after Peel Police strip searched a woman at their station with the door open and male officers laughing nearby. In 2016, he tossed charges against a suspected drunk driver after a female officer unzipped the suspect’s sweater, exposing her breasts in a see-through bra. And in Toronto, Justice Heather McArthur stayed impaired driving charges after an accused was made to remove his pants, exposing his underwear.
“Golden was released by the Supreme Court more than 17 years ago,” Libman complained. “The law regarding strip searches is clear. There should be no ‘contention, confusion or uncertainty.’”
So why are police still not getting the message?
Source: Simcoe Reformer