July 9, 2008
Police officers in Victoria exceeded their authority last week when they boarded buses and began randomly searching riders and seizing unopened bottles of alcohol from those they believed were heading for Canada Day celebrations, according to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
Rob Holmes, the association’s president, said police do not have the legal authority to conduct random searches and there is no law against carrying closed alcohol containers in public.
“Canada Day is celebration of independence and freedom of Canada and Canadians. It is absolutely repugnant to see such a celebration tarnished by a policy of illegal search and seizure,” Holmes said Tuesday.
The civil liberties group has laid formal complaints with the B.C. police complaint commissioner and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, reproaching the municipal police departments of Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich and Oak Bay and the West Shore RCMP.
But Const. Derek Tolmie of the Victoria Police Department said officers have the authority to search for alcohol that they believe is being kept for unlawful purposes.
“We acted under the Liquor Control [and] Licensing Act, and basically it allows us to search without warrant any place short of a residence, anywhere where we believe alcohol is possessed for unlawful purposes,” Tolmie said.
“We don’t want to police the heck out of … Canada Day. It’s an issue, though, that we have to act in order to prevent it from getting out of control, and we’re acting in the well being of the majority of people who are going there to enjoy it for what it is, a family event,” Tolmie said.
Holmes argued, however, that the searches were essentially random and police had no way of knowing whether any alcohol they found was going to be consumed in public, which is an offence.
“They didn’t know that people had alcohol, and as I understand it, the vast majority of people didn’t have anything at all, but were still subjected to the indignity of having the police indiscriminately stop them and rummage through their personal effects,” Holmes said.
The civil liberties group is asking the police forces to apologize for the searches and seizures and to ensure they are not repeated.
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