Canadian Criminal Procedure and Practice/Search and Seizure/Seizure of Property

Seizure of Things Not SpecifiedEdit

Section 489 authorizes police officers to seize certain property. It specifically addresses the situation where police seek to seize property other than what is specified in the warrant.

Seizure of things not specified
489. (1) Every person who executes a warrant may seize, in addition to the things mentioned in the warrant, any thing that the person believes on reasonable grounds

(a) has been obtained by the commission of an offence against this or any other Act of Parliament;
(b) has been used in the commission of an offence against this or any other Act of Parliament; or
(c) will afford evidence in respect of an offence against this or any other Act of Parliament.

Seizure without warrant
(2) Every peace officer, and every public officer who has been appointed or designated to administer or enforce any federal or provincial law and whose duties include the enforcement of this or any other Act of Parliament, who is lawfully present in a place pursuant to a warrant or otherwise in the execution of duties may, without a warrant, seize any thing that the officer believes on reasonable grounds

(a) has been obtained by the commission of an offence against this or any other Act of Parliament;
(b) has been used in the commission of an offence against this or any other Act of Parliament; or
(c) will afford evidence in respect of an offence against this or any other Act of Parliament.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 489; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 72, c. 42 (4th Supp.), s. 3; 1993, c. 40, s. 16; 1997, c. 18, s. 48.

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Under s. 489, a peace officer in lawful execution of their duty may seize anything without a warrant that they reasonably believe to be:

  1. obtained by crime;
  2. used in a crime; or
  3. affords evidence of a crime.

All items that are seized must be reported to a justice of the peace pursuant to s. 489.1. The justice of the peace will grant a detention order for a period of time. The property must be returned on the expiration of the order unless the justice grants an extension under s. 490(1) or if charges are laid.

This section does not codify or incorporate any part of the common law doctrine of "plain view".[1]

  1. R. v. Bottineau, 2011 ONCA 194 (CanLII)

Procedure Upon Seizure of PropertyEdit

Section 489.1 governs the procedure to be followed by the police upon seizing property, whether under warrant, warrantless, or otherwise under an Act of Parliament including s. 489. This applies to seizure on search incident to arrest as well as seizure incidental to a search warrant.[1]

489.1 (1) Subject to this or any other Act of Parliament, where a peace officer has seized anything under a warrant issued under this Act or under section 487.11 or 489 or otherwise in the execution of duties under this or any other Act of Parliament, the peace officer shall, as soon as is practicable,

(a) where the peace officer is satisfied,
(i) that there is no dispute as to who is lawfully entitled to possession of the thing seized, and
(ii) that the continued detention of the thing seized is not required for the purposes of any investigation or a preliminary inquiry, trial or other proceeding,

return the thing seized ... to the person lawfully entitled to its possession and report to the justice who issued the warrant ... or, if no warrant was issued, a justice having jurisdiction in respect of the matter, that he has done so; or

(b) where the peace officer is not satisfied as described in subparagraphs (a)(i) and (ii),
(i) bring the thing seized before the justice referred to in paragraph (a), or
(ii) report to the justice that he has seized the thing and is detaining it or causing it to be detained

to be dealt with by the justice in accordance with subsection 490(1). ...

Form
(3) A report to a justice under this section shall be in the form set out as Form 5.2 in Part XXVIII, varied to suit the case...

R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 72; 1993, c. 40, s. 17; 1997, c. 18, s. 49.

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Under s. 489.1(1)(b)(ii), where the police seize property either in execution of a warrant or otherwise in execution of their duties, they must file a Report to Justice that is filed with the justice of the peace.

This will permit the officer to hold onto the property for a period of 90 days without laying charges. Where further time is needed the officer must apply for a further detention order under s. 490.

  1. R. v. Backhouse, 2005 CanLII 4937 (ON CA)

Inventory SearchesEdit

Seizure of property will create an authority to perform a warrantless search the items seized for the purpose itemizing them and ensuring safe keeping. It cannot be searched for the purpose of advancing an investigation.[1]

  1. R v Adam 2012 ABPC 77
    R v Wint 2009 ONCA 52

Detention OrderEdit

Section 490 governs the procedure for detaining property seized under s. 489 or 489.1, including obtaining the approval of justice to detain the property for a period of time.

An order can be made by a justice of the peace to allow the police to detain property under s.490(1):

Detention of things seized
490. (1) Subject to this or any other Act of Parliament, where, pursuant to paragraph 489.1(1)(b) or subsection 489.1(2), anything that has been seized is brought before a justice or a report in respect of anything seized is made to a justice, the justice shall,

(a) where the lawful owner or person who is lawfully entitled to possession of the thing seized is known, order it to be returned to that owner or person, unless the prosecutor, or the peace officer or other person having custody of the thing seized, satisfies the justice that the detention of the thing seized is required for the purposes of any investigation or a preliminary inquiry, trial or other proceeding; or
(b) where the prosecutor, or the peace officer or other person having custody of the thing seized, satisfies the justice that the thing seized should be detained for a reason set out in paragraph (a), detain the thing seized or order that it be detained, taking reasonable care to ensure that it is preserved until the conclusion of any investigation or until it is required to be produced for the purposes of a preliminary inquiry, trial or other proceeding.


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Section 489.1 and 490, together set out an administrative scheme for managing detained property in the course of a criminal investigation as well as returning property.[1]

These provisions establish "a predictable, fair, efficient, and orderly procedure for the detention, retention, return, and forfeiture of seized items, consistent with the interests of justice." Non-compliance is not to be translated into "substantive trial remedies" such as a stay of proceedings. Failure to comply may result in the return of the property. However, "may not make such an order if it is not in the interests of justice to do so." [2]

Other courts have suggested that a failure to comply with the provisions, in particular, make a filing under s.489.1, will render the search unlawful.[3]

Still other courts have been reluctant to provide trial remedies.[4]

The obligations imposed by s. 489.1 and 490 are mandatory.[5]

These provisions "safeguard in the balance between the state’s jurisdiction to invade the privacy rights of citizens and the high value that Parliament and the courts have seen fit to ascribe to those rights".[6]

The onus is on the applicant to prove on a balance of probabilities that the provisions were not complied with.[7]

Once property has been detained under s. 490, it is considered "under the control of the court, not the Crown or anyone else." Thus, can only be disposed of pursuant to an order of the court. [8]

  1. R. v. Mann, 2012 BCSC 1247 (CanLII) at para. 71 and 83
  2. R. v. Mann, 2012 BCSC 1247 (CanLII) at para. 83
    see also R. v. Arason (1992), 21 B.C.A.C. 20 (Report to Justice is “an administrative procedure to be carried out after the completion of a search. Non compliance with it ought not to affect the validity of the search itself."
    R. v. Berube 1999 CanLII 13241 (QC CA), (1999), 139 C.C.C. (3d) 304 (Que.C.A.) : late filing was a technicality and not enough to invalidate search
    R. v. Karim, 2012 ABQB 470 ("I can think of no [...] situation in our criminal law where a lawful act that meets the requirements of the Charter, ...can subsequently become non Charter compliant because of another action separated by time.")
  3. R. v. Guiller, (1985) 25 CRR 273 (Ont. Dist.Ct.): evidence excluded under s.24(2)
    R. v. Noseworthy, [1995] O.J. No. 1759, 1995 CanLII 7425 (ON SC) (Ont. Ct. Jus G.D.)
    R. v. Macneil 1994 CanLII 4314 (NS SC), (1994), 130 N.S.R. (2d) 202 (N.S.S.C)
  4. R. v. Martens, 2004 BCSC 1450 (CanLII) at para. 264
    R. v. Valiquette, 2010 BCSC 1423 (CanLII)
    R. v. Patterson, 2011 BCSC 1728 (CanLII)
  5. R. v. Pickton, 2006 BCSC 1098 at para 60
  6. R. v. Pickton, 2006 BCSC 1098 at para 60
  7. R. v. Mann, 2012 BCSC 1247 (CanLII) at para. 75
  8. R. v. Bellefleur, [1992] S.J. No. 473 (Q.B.)

Extending Time Period of DetentionEdit

Under s. 490(2), all property that is seized by police must be released after the detention period. That is, unless there are proceedings "instituted in which the thing detained may be required." (s. 490(2)(b)) This would include criminal charges where the thing may be part of the evidence for trial.

Under s. 490(2)(a), the party may apply to have property seized pursuant to s. 490(1) detained past the time limit where "a justice, on the making of a summary application to him after three clear days notice thereof to the person from whom the thing detained was seized, is satisfied that, having regard to the nature of the investigation, its further detention for a specified period is warranted and the justice so orders"

Release and Return of PropertyEdit

A Superior Court Justice has inherent jurisdiction to order the return of property seized by the police where the items are not needed for trial and otherwise not needed to be held by the police. [1]

  1. see Butler v. Canada (Attorney General), 1981 CanLII 373 (BC SC)

Access to ExhibitsEdit

Release of Exhibits for TestingEdit

All objects that are put in as exhibits before the court may be released for the purpose of testing on application of a party.

Section 605 states:

Release of exhibits for testing
605. (1) A judge of a superior court of criminal jurisdiction or a court of criminal jurisdiction may, on summary application on behalf of the accused or the prosecutor, after three days notice to the accused or prosecutor, as the case may be, order the release of any exhibit for the purpose of a scientific or other test or examination, subject to such terms as appear to be necessary or desirable to ensure the safeguarding of the exhibit and its preservation for use at the trial.

Disobeying orders
(2) Every one who fails to comply with the terms of an order made under subsection (1) is guilty of contempt of court and may be dealt with summarily by the judge or provincial court judge who made the order or before whom the trial of the accused takes place.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 605; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 203.

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The application may be made before either a superior court judge or a provincial court judge on three days notice.

Once the proceedings are complete and all avenues of appeal are exhausted this section no longer applies to exhibits.[1]

  1. e.g. R. v. Horne, 1999 ABQB 754 (CanLII) at para. 34

Media Access to ExhibitsEdit

The right to access to exhibits flows from the "open court principle". [1]

Dagenais/Mentuck test should apply to requests of third-parties to access exhibits.[2]

The test requires the party opposing access to show that it is "necessary to prevent a serious risk to the proper administration of justice and that the salutary effects of the order sought outweigh the deleterious effects on the rights and interests of the parties and the public."[3]

  1. R. v. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2010 ONCA 726 (CanLII)
  2. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
  3. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Special Seizure PowersEdit

FirearmsEdit

Exigent CircumstancesEdit

Under s.117.02, an officer believes that a firearm or related item[1] "was used in the commission of an offence" or where there was, or is ongoing, an offence where the subject-matter is a firearm or related item[2] and the officer believes the item "is likely to be found on a person, in a vehicle or in any place or premises other than a dwelling-house", then the officer may search the premises or person without a warrant, so long as it under exigent circumstances where it "would not be practicable to obtain a warrant".[3]

  1. a prohibited device, any ammunition, any prohibited ammunition or an explosive substance
  2. firearm, an imitation firearm, a cross-bow, a prohibited weapon, a restricted weapon, a prohibited device, ammunition, prohibited ammunition or an explosive substance
  3. see also s 487, 487.11

Failure to Produce AuthorizationEdit

Under s. 117.03, where a person is found in possession of a firearm or related items and cannot produce the appropriate documents authorizing them to possess it, an officer may seize the items. If the proper documentation is produced within 14 days, the officer must return the items seized. If 14 days pass without producing the authorization, the officer may apply to the court to have the firearm forfeited.

Danger to self or publicEdit

Under s.117.04, an officer may seize a firearm from someone in lawful possession of it where the officer believes he may pose a danger to themselves or the public. A warrant is required unless there are exigent circumstances such that "by reason of a possible danger to the safety of that person or any other person, it would not be practicable to obtain a warrant".(s. 117.04(2))

Under s.117.05, the officer may apply to forfeit the firearm after 30 days where it can be established that forfeiture is in the "interests of the safety of the person". (see Canadian_Criminal_Sentencing/Ancillary_Orders/Forfeiture#interests_of_the_safety)

See AlsoEdit

Last modified on 14 January 2013, at 15:02