Pubdate: Thu, 07 Apr 2016
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Windsor Star
Author: Colin Perkel
Page: B4


TORONTO - A traffic officer who routinely searched vehicles he 
stopped was out of line and should have known better, Ontario's top 
court ruled Wednesday.

In throwing out a drug conviction, the court found a car search by 
Const. Robert Sinclair violated the rights of the accused, Alexander 
Harflett. "I do not doubt that Const. Sinclair believes that he is 
doing the right thing," the Court of Appeal said. "(But) as an 
instructor of other police officers, he ought to be fully conversant 
with his legal authority - but the evidence shows either that he was 
not or that he was prepared to search regardless."

Sinclair, with the Ontario Provincial Police highway enforcement 
team, was at a service centre on Highway 401 when he spotted a 
vehicle with Quebec plates. As a demonstration for a colleague, the 
officer ran a search on the plates and found Harflett's driver's 
licence had been suspended for unpaid fines.

The officer pulled him over down the highway, where Harflett, of 
Oshawa, Ont., produced a valid Quebec licence.

Sinclair arrested him for using another licence while his Ontario one 
was suspended. He also called a tow truck to move the car from the 
highway to a nearby hotel to allow Harflett to pay his fines and get 
his licence back.

Sinclair then took what he called an "inventory" of the vehicle - 
something he testified he always did.

During the search, Sinclair discovered marijuana in the trunk. He 
arrested Harflett for possessing the drug for trafficking purposes.

At trial, Sinclair admitted he had been conducting a traffic 
investigation when he detained the accused and had no reason to 
suspect any criminality. However, he argued he needed to verify if 
the car had any valuables or dangerous items inside.

In March 2014, Ontario court Judge Catherine Kehoe found his actions 
reasonable, decided any violation of the accused's rights was 
technical or minor, admitted the drug evidence, and convicted him. In 
throwing out the case, the Appeal Court found Sinclair had no 
authority for the search.

"The inventory search cannot be justified on the basis of officer 
safety or any suspicion that the appellant was involved in criminal 
conduct," the Appeal Court said. "Sinclair had no public safety 
concerns, since he was going to release the car to the appellant."
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