Unlawful police traffic stops

Earlier this week, a video surfaced of a Kelowna RCMP officer stopping a vehicle because the passenger had made a frustrated gesture at the officer after some poor driving on his part. It is clear in watching the video that the officer’s true purpose in stopping the vehicle was to berate the passenger for his gesture. When challenged on his decision to stop the vehicle, the officer told the driver that he had stopped her for a license and insurance check. It was obvious that the officer was retroactively trying to justify what was an arbitrary and unlawful traffic stop. The officer is now under investigation. 

This interaction got me thinking about lawful and unlawful police stops. As a driving and criminal lawyer, I receive many calls from clients who are concerned about the police and their traffic stops. Many people are concerned about the reason why the police pulled them over in the first place. This post will explain when the police are justified in stopping your vehicle.

Police Discretion for Traffic Stops
The police in Canada have a wide discretion to stop vehicles and conduct investigations. Although in some U.S. states, drivers are protected against random vehicle stops, including roadblocks, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that police have the authority to conduct random traffic stops in order to ensure drivers are validly licensed and insured, and to ensure that drivers are sober and fit to drive. This is consistent with the public good achieved by reducing the number of deaths and injuries on the roadway. There is also authority in the Motor Vehicle Act requiring a driver to produce a license on request by a peace officer, and requiring a driver to stop the vehicle and state his or her name and address to a police officer.

In the situation in the Kelowna video, the driver was required to stop the vehicle once signalled to do so by the officer. She was also required to produce her license. But the officer’s true purpose in stopping her was not for any authorized purpose known to law. It was to pick a fight with her passenger. The driver was right to challenge the officer’s conduct. He should never have stopped the vehicle in the first place.

The police also, of course, have the authority to stop anyone they observe committing a Motor Vehicle Act or Criminal Code violation, and if they have reasonable grounds to believe an offence has occurred. It is not uncommon for police to conduct what seems like a random traffic stop when they observe behaviour that is consistent with a dial-a-dope operation. So traffic stops that seems unjustified at first blush may well be justified in law.

What Happens When the Traffic Stop is Unlawful?
I’ve dealt with many scenarios in which the police unlawfully stop vehicles. What the result is will likely depend on what forum you are dealing with. For example, if you’re charged with a criminal offence you are far more likely to receive a remedy than if you are charged with a Motor Vehicle Act offence.

Recently, I dealt with a criminal case in which the officer testified that he stopped my client’s vehicle because he was, essentially, curious. He had not seen any offences being committed and he did not articulate that he was conducting a sobriety or license/insurance check. The Court concluded that this was an unlawful vehicle stop, and excluded all of the evidence that was obtained after the vehicle was stopped. Similarly, in the case of R. v. Harrison, the Supreme Court of Canada considered an unlawful stop of a driver who, it turned out, was transporting 35 kg of cocaine. The officer had pulled behind the vehicle intending to stop it for not having a front license plate. The vehicle was registered in Alberta, however, where front plates are not required. The officer didn’t want to embarrass himself by not stopping the vehicle, so he stopped it anyway.

He was probably more embarrassed when all the cocaine was excluded from evidence on the basis of his serious Charter violation.

Because the police have such a wide discretion to conduct these stops, the courts treat it far more seriously when they abuse that power. There have been a recent line of cases from the BC Provincial Court in which drug squad members were conducting traffic stops as a pretense to detain and search drivers. The Courts didn’t like that either. As Spiderman has taught us all, with great power comes great responsibility.

But what about in the administrative context? What if your vehicle was unlawfully stopped in an Immediate Roadside Prohibition case?

The sad thing is that the RoadSafetyBC tribunal does not seem to be so concerned about unlawful traffic stops. A good example is a client of mine who was stopped for driving the speed limit. The officer wrote in her report that she stopped my client for driving at the speed limit, which she found to be unusual. He was then asked to blow into a roadside breathalyzer and refused on the basis that being stopped for following the law was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. Rightly so. But the tribunal did not seem to care. Notwithstanding the Court’s conclusion in the constitutional challenge to the second version of the scheme that Charter violations can and must be addressed, the prohibition was confirmed.

How Do I Know if My Vehicle Was Stopped Unlawfully?
You don’t, really. These are questions that are more easily answered by the police report or by the testimony of the officer. Although you are detained within the meaning of the Charter, and your Section 10(a) rights are triggered, in my experience most police officers fail to advise drivers in traffic stops about the reason why they’ve been pulled over. Granted, in many cases it is obvious. But there are also plenty of cases in which it is not obvious why a driver has been stopped. If you’re those people driving through Kelowna, you know that your vehicle has been unlawfully stopped. But if you’re Mr. Harrison, you cannot really be certain.

Police vehicles are equipped with Automated License Plate Scanners, meaning that even if you are driving in a manner that would not draw anyone’s attention, the police are still running your plates. If the registered owner of a vehicle is prohibited, you’re likely to be stopped. Ditto if the registered owner is supposed to display an “N” sign and one is not displayed. The police will often then stop the vehicle to ensure compliance with the Motor Vehicle Act.

Often, I get calls from people who feel they have been targeted by police due to a poor driving history (multiple IRPs, for example) or the type of car they drive. In some circumstances, these stops can be unlawful. But in many, given the broad discretion police have to pull over drivers, this isn’t the case.

The easiest thing to do is follow these simple guidelines: If you’ve been stopped leaving a bar, pub, or licensed establishment assume the traffic stop is justified. If you’re prohibited or violating the Motor Vehicle Act in any way, assume the traffic stop is justified. If your driving is erratic, assume the stop is justified. If you pull up to a roadblock, assume the stop is justified. But if you throw up your hands in frustration at a police officer’s inattentive driving, assume that there is no lawful basis to stop you.

66 thoughts on “Unlawful police traffic stops”

  1. Robert MacDonald

    Can a police officer stationed in west vancouver “motorcycle officer” have the authority to issue a ticket to a vehicle owner in North Burnaby, actually the 3900 E. Hastings St.

  2. What if the rcmp are consistently pulling over random vehicles and setting up road blocks in a very small community? Can, and when, could this be considered a violation of our charter of rights?

  3. Can police seize out of province license and plates off a vehicle. Pulled over for a passenger seat belt issue

  4. I was stopped recently in BC for not looking like a Sharon *******. No laws were broken, Sharon was not prohibited, nor does she have a bad driving record. When I questioned the cop, she said I can stop anyone I like, I know who I can stop and who I can’t. Any opinions?

  5. really nice

    This is definitely credible tidings my friend. you are a very most luxurious writer . i dearth to portion with you my website as well. foresee me what do you deem approximately it

    buy youtube views

    Thankyou again for posting such good content. Cheers

  6. Greate pieces. Keep posting such kind of information on your blog.
    Im really impressed by your blog.
    Hey there, You have done an incredible job. I will certainly digg it and in my
    opinion recommend to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this web site.

  7. Whats up are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up
    my own. Do you require any html coding knowledge to make your own blog?
    Any help would be really appreciated!

  8. First off I want to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear
    your head before writing. I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
    I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just trying
    to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips?

    Many thanks!

  9. Thank you for any other informative blog. Where else could I am getting that kind of information written in such a perfect manner?
    I’ve a undertaking that I’m simply now running on, and I’ve been on the look out for such info.

  10. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you so much, However I am having problems with your RSS.
    I don’t understand the reason why I am unable to subscribe
    to it. Is there anybody getting the same RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond?
    Thanx!!

  11. Unquestionably believe that which you stated.
    Your favorite justification seemed to be on the net the easiest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they just don’t know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out
    the whole thing without having side effect ,
    people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more.
    Thanks

  12. naturally like your website but you have to take a look
    at the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling
    problems and I to find it very troublesome to inform the
    reality on the other hand I will surely come again again.

  13. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging
    on sites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It’s always
    exciting to read content from other writers and use
    a little something from other web sites.

  14. Hi would you mind letting me know which web host you’re using?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads
    a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good hosting
    provider at a reasonable price? Thanks, I appreciate it!

  15. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Chrome.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with internet
    browser compatibility but I thought I’d post
    to let you know. The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue
    solved soon. Thanks

  16. Hello, i think that i saw you visited my web site thus i came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to enhance my website!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  17. The road is long and steep. Maybe you are tired. You want to give up.If you want to reach the peak of the road smoothly, you can only hold back the tired feet, relax the complex thoughts in your heart, and keep going forward step by step. Believe a word: do not give up, only succeed.

  18. Simply wish to say your article is as surprising. The clearness in your post is just great and
    i can assume you are an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to
    grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post.

    Thanks a million and please continue the enjoyable work.

  19. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you might be
    a great author. I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and
    will eventually come back sometime soon. I want
    to encourage continue your great job, have a nice day!

  20. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this
    site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s tough to get that
    “perfect balance” between usability and appearance.

    I must say that you’ve done a awesome job with this.
    In addition, the blog loads very fast for me on Safari.
    Excellent Blog!

  21. To be a person is to be like a flower, whether or not anyone sees it, but you must bloom. You do not bloom for others but for yourself. Don’t do other people’s rewards, just be the most dazzling self!

  22. When I face the sea, others are blooming in spring, when I want to die with the sea, but it has become the Dead Sea. I have many memories about you, but you are paranoid that you are just a passerby.

  23. Esta obra básica y sencilla, desarrolla las leyes que rigen en los líquidos y gases en función de la transferencia de calor, y que encuentran aplicación en las instalaciones de aire acondicionado. La obra progresa desde una explicación de principios básicos, pasando por una exposición de detalles de construcción y tipos de sistemas de aire acondicionado, hasta la instalación, localización de averías y reparación de estos sistemas.

  24. Un vehiculo Sixt le espera en las sucursales de los aeropuertos de Charles de Gaulle y Orly de Paris, en el de Luton (Inglaterra), en el Ciampino y Fiumicino de Roma, en la Terminal dos del aeropuerto de Budapest, en el de la ciudad de Atenas, Bruselas, Rotterdam y alquiler de coches baratos en madrid aeropuerto una inacabable lista de ciudades que puede preguntar en la propia pagina de Sixt.

  25. Para mejorar el contacto con los clientes, el Servicio Técnico Oficial Manaut en Madrid, pone a su disposición, una moderna sede emplazada en el barrio de Las Rosas. Además, es interesante que revises previamente la información disponible en la sección de preguntas más frecuentes para intentar aclarar las dudas que puedas tener sobre tus productos Bosch. Además del servicio de atención telefónica también puedes enviar tus consultas y mensajes a través del formulario online que Bosch facilita en su página web. Todas nuestras intervenciones tienen garantía de 1 año en piezas y materiales utilizados por nuestros técnicos.

  26. Servicio técnico Whirlpool Barrio del Pilar Madrid atiende todas las reparaciones de electrodomésticos Whirlpool en la ciudad de Barrio del Pilar Madrid. Ingenua de mi llamo y me dice que me ponga en contacto con el servicio técnico que es a su vez el servicio de atención al cliente, me atienden mas bien mal, una señorita que se llama Katy (me dijo su nombre) sin saber nada mas y sin ver fotografias afirma categoricamente qu ele he dado un golpe, y tras mi insistencia me dice que mande una foto.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Call Now ButtonCALL ME NOW Scroll to Top