Private parking areas are off-limits when it comes to random police checks, Saskatchewan's highest court has ruled, in a case where a woman was found not guilty of a drinking-and-driving related charge.
The case, recently published on the CanLII legal database, concerned a woman who was driving in the parking lot of the Bella Vista Inn in Humboldt.
Although her driving was OK, police pulled her over to check her licence and registration.
When an officer was suspicious she had been drinking and asked the woman to take a breath test, she agreed, but failed to produce a suitable sample of her breath.
She was charged with failing to take a breath test, an offence that carries the same penalty as impaired driving. As the case worked its way through the courts, the issue of where the woman was pulled over became central to the legal arguments.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal finally ruled, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Klebuc, that police did not have the power to conduct a random check stop in a private parking area.
Saskatchewan law allows police to do check stops on highways, and parking lots are not covered, the court said.
"[P]rivate parking areas are not to be treated as if they were highways, save for the rules of the road," Klebuc wrote in the decision.
He said the officers needed to simply wait for the woman to drive onto a public road and then proceed with their random stop.
Klebuc said waiting posed no particular hardship since the driver was not doing anything problematic in the parking lot.
The Chief Justice added he was concerned that police would have very broad powers if the case had not been challenged.
"[P]olice officers would be equally entitled to stop and detain a driver of a vehicle on the driveway of his or her private residence or a farmer operating a truck on his farm, randomly," Klebuc wrote. "This ... would be a far-reaching infringement of [Charter rights] and should not be accepted."
Klebuc said he also did not accept the notion that the driver may have proceeded onto a public road. He said it was entirely possible that the driver may have stayed in the parking lot.
In the end, the woman was found not guilty.