February 05, 2015 - 2:36 PM
KELOWNA – Kelowna RCMP "routinely" violate the right to privacy of female prisoners during strip searches at the detachment and show "ignorance of the law" on the subject, according to a ruling from a provincial court judge.
Judge Ellen Burdett said local Mounties' practice of recording and broadcasting female strip searches to a guard room is in clear violation of 14-year-old laws establishing proper procedure.
“Videotaping inside strip search rooms and simultaneous broadcasting to a central monitoring location is a routine policy at the Kelowna detachment, and not related to the unique circumstances of any individual case," Burdett said in a Jan. 23 judgment. "That 'routine policy’, breaches the intent and spirit of (case law). The interests of the police of maintaining safety in the search rooms and preserving evidence are not so compelling that they outweigh (the) expectation of privacy that her strip search not be videotaped and monitored remotely.”
In February 2014, Madison Fine, a drug dealer well-known to police, was taken into a separate closed room to be strip searched. She was asked to remove her shirt and later her pants and underwear. She was attended by a female RCMP officer and a female guard, but the event was also recorded and broadcast to a guard room where guards and officers monitor the cells. No one told Fine it was being recorded or broadcast.
Fine asked Burdett to find the practice was a breach of her charter right to unreasonable search and seizure and a right to privacy. While the judge ruled against Fine, she had strong words for how Kelowna RCMP handled not just Fine's search, but all strip searches.
“It is alarming to learn that police officers in Kelowna... have not been properly trained, and at least in this case, not required to read the policy manual on strip searches before embarking upon one," she wrote. "I recognize that the use of video cameras in the detention areas of police detachments is necessary for both safety reasons and for the preservation of evidence... However, the reasonableness of videotaping everything in the detention area should not include videotaping and simultaneously broadcasting a strip search to a central monitoring area."
Despite the ruling, police offer no indication their practices have changed. Though the case was heard in December 2014 and the decision made in January 2015, police refuse to comment on if they still have cameras on strip searches.
"It would not be appropriate for me to comment on judgements," Const. Kris Clark said.
This isn’t the first time RCMP from the B.C. Interior have been chastised for breach of privacy. In August last year Cpl. Ken Brown, two other Mounties and at least one guard were accused of failing to intervene when they watched a video monitor that showed two drunk female inmates having sex in a cell.
Charges against Brown were dismissed and those against Constables Evan Elgee and Stephen Zaharia dropped. In 2013 David Tompkins, a jail-guard employed with the City, pleaded guilty and received a one-year conditional sentence.
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