Pubdate: Tue, 07 Oct 2003
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 The Province
Author: Adrienne Tanner


Every month, Vancouver jail guards conducting strip searches collect enough
contraband to fill a plastic container the size of a 2.5-kilogram bag of flour.

Needles, some in their sterile orange and white wrappers, others used and
bloodied, make up the bulk of the seized items, Peter Coulson, the jail's
acting district director, testified yesterday in provincial court.

But there are also knifes, crack pipes, razor blades, pins and bent coat
hangers in the mix, he said, shaking the see-through container.

Judge Catherine Bruce shuddered and asked that Coulson not enter it as an
exhibit. "I'm not sure I want something that might be filled with

Coulson was testifying at the trial of Cara Douglas, 33, who was charged with
assault following a scuffle with police after she was pulled over for a driving
offence in June 2002.

Douglas's lawyer, Rick Brooks, said her constitutional rights were violated by
a strip search.

In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that strip searches cannot be
carried out as a matter of routine.

The Vancouver jail routinely searches everyone arrested and about to be charged
with a criminal offence because it is a shared provincial jail and police
holding cell where prisoners mix.

Coulson said the jail, which deals with up to 100 prisoners a day, is at
capacity. There is no viable way to separate the fresh arrests from everyone
else and strip searches are necessary to ensure staff and prisoner safety and
to curb drug dealing.

He agreed with Brooks' description of strip searches as humiliating and

"Yes, for the person being searched and in a lot of cases for the people
conducting the searches as well," Coulson said.

There is no blanket strip-search policy at RCMP holding cells.

Two other Vancouver lawyers are attempting to mount a class-action lawsuit
challenging the Vancouver jail policy.

Douglas's trial continues.
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