Including Criminal Code, Highway Traffic, Income Tax, and Regulatory Offences

Random Police Stops & the Highway Traffic Act

Police in Ontario have broad authority under the Highway Traffic Act to pull you over in relation to highway traffic matters, including simply to require you to show them your driver's license, vehicle permit, or insurance card. It is usually at this point that drivers get upset, wondering what it was they did wrong, and not getting a straight answer.
 
You needn't have done anything wrong. Yes, under section 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, arbitrary stops are normally prohibited. However, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a random stop pursuant to the Highway Traffic Act is an infringement of section 9 of the Charter that is justified by section 1 of the Charter, if the purpose of the detention is to investigate whether the driver is impaired (under certain circumstances), licensed or insured, or to investigate the mechanical fitness of the vehicle. 
 
Even so, when you are stopped the wait must be brief and the officer is only allowed to ask questions related to those driving issues - unless he or she has reasonable grounds to go further. More intrusive questioning, or searches, are not authorized by the Highway Traffic Act. The police must have reasonable grounds to go further in questioning and/or searches. Otherwise, they are using the Highway Traffic Act as a pretext or a ruse for a criminal investigation.

Below are examples of actual cases where judges found that roadside stops were illegal, and not truly permitted by the Highway Traffic Act. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice or legal information; it is for interest only:

The real reason for the stop was to do a drug investigation (the stop was otherwise illegal as there were no grounds to believe that there were drugs in the vehicle other than the driver had stopped briefly at a suspected crack house);

The real reason for the stop was to see if the vehicle was stolen (the stop was otherwise illegal because there were no grounds to believe this was the case other than the make of the vehicle was the same make as a stolen vehicle);

Many other cases where the police used the Highway Traffic Act as a ruse to justify a stop that was not truly for highway traffic matters but rather for a criminal investigation ('pretext' stops);

Even though highway safety concerns were one purpose for a stop, an additional reason for the stop was the driver's race or gender;

The driver was stopped because he was coming out of a business area at a late hour and seemed to be nervous of the police vehicle (the officer testified that it was his intention "just to see who it was and make sure everything was okay");

The police activated their roof lights thinking the vehicle required a front plate, quickly realized it didn't, but proceeded with the stop anyway to maintain their integrity in the eyes of the public (so they didn't look silly);

The police used the power to stop a motorist at random as a means of conducting an unfounded general questioning or an unreasonable search (to investigate at large);

The police lawfully stopped a vehicle for running a red light and, on the pretext of investigating the passenger for a seatbelt violation, asked for his identification for the real purpose of a general investigation, or a "fishing expedition". The court did not believe the passenger was not wearing a seatbelt. 
 
If you were illegally stopped, you may have remedies including having your charges dismissed. Feel free to contact me for a consultation at 613.203.4874. Check out my main website at CriminalLawInOttawa.ca.