Although it didn’t make the front page of the major Toronto newspapers or even get much local attention (aside from the front page of the Aug. 4 Chatham Voice), the decision by the Chatham-Kent Police Service to change its policy requiring women to remove their bras while in police custody is a major step in the right direction.
The issue became front-page news across the province and in cyberspace when Justice Lucy Glenn of the Ontario Court of Justice dismissed an impaired driving charge against a local woman on the grounds that her guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated.
That case brought forth complaints by a second woman days later who had appeared in court without a bra.
Police said the policy has been in place for years since an individual in custody attempted to hang herself using her bra.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services found no problem with the policy during a review in 2011; however, in 2013 a court ruled the York Regional Police were found to have violated a woman’s rights through enforcing the policy.
The major change to the policy is that removal of a bra is no longer mandatory but will be done on a case-by-case basis.
Police will now make a determination which will include information about whether the person has a violent disposition, has made threats to harm themselves both past or present, or if they are flagged in the system as possibly suicidal.
Police have a duty to ensure the safety of individuals in their custody and that includes removing property which has been determined could pose a threat to that individual or anyone else who comes into contact with them.
Despite the special powers society grants them to carry out their duties, police are still required to operate within the same confines of the law as the rest of us.
We believe the public wants police to have these powers but use them in a manner that conforms to the constant changes of interpretation of rights by our courts.
This change allows them to do just that.