Strip search policy at Vancouver jail challenged

A class-action suit will challenge the Vancouver jail's strip search policy.

A policy of routine strip searching at the Vancouver city jail is being challenged in a class-action lawsuit and a provincial court case.

Lawyers are arguing that people's charter rights are being violated at the jail every day.

Those who run the jail say it's a safety issue, and the B.C. government is trying to put an end to the challenges by passing legislation that makes the policy law.

It's standard procedure at the jail to put people in a holding cell. Then, before anything else happens, even before they're allowed to call a lawyer, they're asked to strip naked, hand over their clothes and submit to a visual examination.

George Feenstra, an Anglican minister, was arrested during a clash between police and protesters last year.

"They said: 'Take your shorts off,' so I did. Then they said to me: 'Now lift your testicles,' so I had to lift my testicles and they looked underneath them."

Jessica Peart was picked up for plastering bus shelters with posters during a May Day parade that turned ugly. "I felt that it wasn't necessarily about strip searching me to find anything, but strip searching me to take away my pride and to institutionalize me and make me follow their orders."

Cameron Ward is representing more than two dozen people in a class-action suit challenging the jail's policy. His argument relies on a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that says the decision to strip search must be "addressed on a case-by-case basis and cannot justify routine strip searches of all arrestees."

B.C. Corrections says it must search everyone to protect jail staff and other inmates. "The fact is we don't know the background of these people, and we do know that on a regular basis we find contraband," said spokesman Pete Coulson.

No other police forces in cities across the country conduct strip searches as a matter of routine.

B.C. Solicitor General Rich Coleman says his government plans to end the dispute by enacting legislation. "We want to codify the policy," he said.

Legislating the policy may not be that easy. Next week, a provincial court judge will rule in another case challenging the policy.