Cell phone ruling ‘more disturbing than carding’

By Gerald V. Paul

With the Supreme Court of Canada 4-3 decision allowing police to search cell phones without a warrant, a prominent community activist and law student told The Camera “This is more disturbing than carding.”

George (Knia) Singh, who says he has experienced racial carding, also said the issue is entering Charter of Rights territory.

Singh, of Dallas Criminal Defence, which calls itself “the voice of urban representation”, said he concurs with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association which called the ruling a “significant blow to the privacy rights of average Canadians.”

The high court imposed four conditions police must meet to ensure warrantless searches of a suspect’s cell phone:

  • An arrest must be lawful.
  • The search of the cell phone must take place promptly.
  • The search must be tailored or directly related to the investigation at hand. The court said police would be justified in looking at recently sent or drafted emails, texts, photos and call logs but don’t have “licence to rummage around in the device at will.”
  • Police must take “detailed notes” out of what private information they look at and for how long in order to aid a court to later rule whether the search was justified.The majority of justices found that under the new test Fearon’s rights were breached because the officers had not had taken detailed notes.
  • The ruling dismissed the appeal of Kevin Fearon, who has served a six-year sentence for the 2009 armed robbery of a jewelry vendor at a Downsview market. The court concluded police had good reasons to search Fearon’s phone after they frisked him just hours after the robbery.