Sûreté du Québec cellphone search an abuse of power, police ethics board rules
Quebec provincial police officer Sylvain Baril seized, searched man's phone against his will
Quebec's police ethics commission has ruled that a Sûreté du Québec officer abused his position of power when he seized and searched a man's cellphone in 2013.
Officer Sylvain Baril stopped driver Steve Lemire for using his phone behind the wheel on Feb. 22, 2013 in Shawinigan.
Baril, who has been a police officer since 1991, threatened to charge Lemire with obstructing justice if he did not hand over his phone, according to the commission.
Lemire said he initially refused to give his phone but Baril kept repeating his threat to charge him.
"You stopped me," Lemire said he told Baril."Give me the ticket for what you arrested me for and I'll go, no trouble,"
In an 18-page decision, the commission ruled the officer had no right to seize and search the phone against the man's will.
The decision states Baril also abused his power as a police officer when he threatened to charge Lemire with obstruction of justice.
'You can't simply grab a phone'
Julius Grey, a well-known human rights lawyer in Montreal, says that while Lemire may have violated the law by using his phone while driving that police have no right to seize the device.
"There is absolutely no right on the part of the police to go fishing for information. And in particular, if you don't have a search warrant you can't simply grab a phone," Grey told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
Grey says that even when someone is placed under arrest, police officers do not have the right to do an intrusive sweep of their phones.
"You have what is known as an 'expectation of privacy' in your phone, in your car and especially in your home," Grey said.