Forced bra removal by RCMP questionable, judge says
Saskatchewan court finds taking bra in arrest breached charter rights
A judge in Saskatchewan says an RCMP detachment needs to take a "fresh look" at its procedures after officers forcibly removed a bra from a woman arrested for impaired driving.
Wanda Deschambault was arrested in July 2012 after a truck hit a monument in Lebret, about 80 kilometres northeast of Regina.
Deschambault refused to take off her bra when she was put in a cell, so one officer held her arms behind her back while another reached under her shirt to unclasp the bra.
Deschambault told CBC News Thursday that she asked for a female officer or matron at the Fort Qu'Appelle RCMP detachment and she resisted having her bra removed by males.
"I felt really degraded," she said. "I felt humiliated. I felt cheap — like an insignificant bug."
When the case went to court, one officer testified it was not policy, but rather standing operating procedure for women in Fort Qu'Appelle cells to remove their bras for safety reasons.
But provincial court Judge Barbara Tomkins said in a decision recently posted online that taking the bra by force was unreasonable and breached Deschambault's charter rights.
Deschambault was acquitted, not on the charter breach, but because Tomkins said she wasn't satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Deschambault was in, or was driving, the truck that hit the monument.
"I do hope that this incident and these reasons will result in a decision to review this 'standing operating procedure' at the Fort Qu'Appelle detachment," Tomkins wrote. "It is time for a fresh look."
According to the decision, the RCMP insist on a bra being removed for several reasons: it could be used to attempt suicide; it may conceal drugs or weapons; and the underwire could be used as a weapon.
However, the judge noted there was no evidence suggesting any of those concerns were present during the arrest.
"There was nothing in the circumstances of Ms. Deschambault's arrest and her behaviour prior to the demand for her bra that suggested that she was or might be suicidal; her behaviour was appropriate and controlled prior to the request," the judge said.
The judge also discounted the officers' concerns about contraband and using the bra as a weapon.
Review ordered by RCMP
The RCMP in Saskatchewan have responded to the judge's comments by ordering a review of the specific incident and the bra-removal practise.
RCMP Superintendent Dave Fenson told CBC News that the Mounties do not have a policy that deals with removing a woman's bra in custody.
Must be better way
Sue Delanoy, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan, told CBC there has to be a more dignified way to keep women safe in custody.
"You know, I'm just kind of shocked and concerned about the lack of compassion. And upon further reading, you know, I do know that it's kind of standard operating procedures and not policy."
Deschambault, meanwhile, says she hopes other women will speak out if it happens to them.
"And, you know, let people know how a woman should be treated in a situation like that," she said. "I hope it doesn't happen to any other woman, because it's humiliating."
With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen