Judge sides with Jaggi Singh over fingerprinting complaint

A defendant being tried for a summary offence in a municipal court cannot be compelled to give fingerprints, a Montreal judge ruled Friday.

Well-known activist challenged established practice of fingerprinting as part of summary charge proceedings

People facing summary offence proceedings in municipal court are routinely fingerprinted, despite the less serious nature of summary offences. (Chris Schneider/The Associated Press)

A defendant facing summary offence proceedings in a municipal court cannot be compelled to give fingerprints, a Montreal judge ruled Friday.

The ruling followed a complaint by Montreal activist Jaggi Singh, who is being tried in the Municipal Court of Montreal on a mischief charge.

Singh called the ruling is a victory for privacy rights.

"We all have our right to privacy and we all have a right to not hand over information to anybody we don't want to," he said.

Singh was charged with a hybrid offence, meaning the prosecution could elect to proceed with a more serious indictable offence, or a less serious summary charge, which would be tried by judge alone.

Jaggi Singh called the practice of fingerprinting people facing summary offence proceedings 'completely inappropriate and illegal.' (Radio-Canada)

The crown chose the latter, leading Singh to argue that there was no reason for him to be fingerprinted.

Defendants are routinely compelled to provide their fingerprints and mugshots when facing summary charge proceedings in municipal court, despite their less serious nature.

Singh called the practice "completely inappropriate and illegal" and cited both the Identification of Criminals Act and a Supreme Court of Canada decision from 2009 — R. v. Dudley — to support his complaint.

Crown prosecutor Alexander Tandel asked Judge Randall Richmond to reject Singh's motion, arguing that fingerprints allow police and the courts to better understand and consider a defendant's previous charges.

Richmond sided with Singh in his ruling.

"I conclude that a defendant cannot be compelled to give his fingerprints for a hybrid offence after the Crown has made an election to proceed summarily," he wrote in his decision.

Singh is due back in municipal court next week for another hearing on his original mischief charge.

With files from Elias Abboud and Matt D'Amours