Today Sun Mon
It is forcast to be Clear at 11:00 PM EDT on April 19, 2014
Clear
11°/3°
It is forcast to be Partly Cloudy at 11:00 PM EDT on April 20, 2014
Partly Cloudy
10°/7°
It is forcast to be Partly Cloudy at 11:00 PM EDT on April 21, 2014
Partly Cloudy
18°/8°

44 Comments

news

Polling Booth: Voluntary Police Searches

It’s been two months since Mariam Makhniashvili disappeared without a trace, and Toronto police are attempting a new tactic in their search for clues: peeking into thousands of homes around the Bathurst and Eglinton area. Sixty officers began knocking on doors this week, asking for residents to let them in to root around, scouting for possible evidence. They hope to cover about six-thousand houses and apartments, and although homeowners are not legally obligated to let officers inside without a warrant, denying the request is bound to make some people feel like automatic suspects, possibly subjecting themselves to further scrutiny. As for the motivation of the Toronto Police Service, some would say that canvassing neighbourhoods has worked before, while the more cynical might wonder if the force is attempting to improve the optics of the case, given that any leads seem to have run dry. However, by knocking on doors and asking to be invited in, the police are asking the community to waive its right to privacy, albeit for an important reason. “The innocent have nothing to fear,” goes the mantra, yet one of the cornerstones of human rights is the protection of privacy and prevention of arbitrary interference and intimidation. Keep calm and carry on?

Comments

  • http://undefined toronto_llb

    Sorry – but they’re not getting in my house and no matter what bluster the TPS might put into a press release, your bare refusal to allow police to search your home (absent other facts) isn’t reason enough for a Judge to grant a search warrant.
    The problem I have with this is twofold:
    1) I have, in theory, a limited right of privacy from state intrusion and I am not willing to give it up. This is Canada not East Germany.
    2) I don’t know what they are looking for and I’m not going to assist police by unknowingly disclosing facts that could lead to self-incriminatation. This is the same reason I don’t let them search my car, my wallet, or my pockets.
    It is terrible that this poor girl has disappeared, but I’m not going to co-operate in a complete abdication of my civil rights absent a good enough reason (and investigational desperation isn’t one).

  • http://undefined Vincent Clement

    Do not, I repeat, do not the let police search your property without a warrant. The leash on the police needs to be kept short and tight.

  • http://undefined wesshepherd

    I am totally against invasion of privacy, arbitrary search and seizure, the police state, GPS tagging, micro-chipping, credit card tracking and the elimination of civil liberty in the name of enhanced security.
    Having said that, I would definitely, in this case, give them access to my home just to allow them to remove the noise from their investigation and narrow their focus onto potential persons of interest rather than have to deal with thousands of citizens who decided that now would be a good time to defend their civil rights.
    Let’s face it, they’re not coming kicking your door down and rushing in with guns drawn. They’re asking permission in order to help find a missing girl.
    Part of belonging to a civilized society is realizing that sometimes you have to help out and show your face as part of the community. And while I personally don’t think a door-to-door has much chance of finding anything, I also wouldn’t want to do anything to hamper the search.

  • http://undefined wesshepherd

    They’re looking for clues to help them find a missing girl. How could you unknowingly disclose facts that could lead to self-incrimination if you haven’t anything to do with her disappearance?

  • http://undefined toronto_llb

    Are you aware of every single criminal and provincial offence for which a peace officer may charge you? I’m not.
    Several offences have nebulous legal elements that rely upon an officer’s own assessment of particular factual circumstances. Literally, the number of possible factual combinations that may be used to convict you or put you through the abuse of the legal system is infinite.
    For example, will I be interfering with a peace officer if I prevent him/her from searching my medicine cabinet? Is the ceremonial sword I got from Thailand a prohibited weapon? What about the marijuana I grow for personal medicinal use? Oops, I left my radar detector out. Oops, I left my Koran next to my collection of road flares and wrist watches. etc. etc. etc.
    Just because they’re looking for a missing girl doesn’t mean the police won’t find something else in the process of their “quick peek” around your house.
    Your word will never hold up against theirs in court and your good faith in assisting the police will not necessarily exculpate you from anything they do decide to charge you with.

  • http://undefined wesshepherd

    Wow, Mikep, I’ll grant you that we live in fairly different circumstances, because I can’t lay claim to any of the potentially incriminating circumstances you seem to live amongst.
    Is the ceremonial sword a prohibited weapon? I would guess not, since you got it into the country, but I’d bet that you’d get a few raised eyebrows if you leave your collection of road flares just lying around.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    I believe the road flares etc were just examples given.
    He has a good point, you don’t know what they can charge you with and you may be surprised by things in your home that might be construed as illegal or paint a ‘picture’ for police.
    I’m with Vincent Clement on this one.

  • BellaBella

    I agree completely with what you’ve said. I refrained commenting earlier, but you’ve put it so eloquently.

  • http://www.bitpicture.com Marc Lostracco

    I’m not entirely positive about this, but I believe that if they witness something illegal in your home while searching, the police have to act on it, even though it may be unrelated. And then there was the debacle that was Craig Bromell’s Operation True Blue, where the TPA union planned windshield decals which would demonstrate tiered levels of police support (and, some said, preferential treatment during traffic stops), and the TPA’s assembly of a list of politicians they deemed to be “anti-police.”
    Much has been done in recent years to spiff-up the image of the Toronto Police Service, but most people go out of their way to avoid police contact, not always because they are avoiding crime, but because there is often a perception—right or wrong—that the police can’t always be trusted. In this case, they’re asking to poke around inside your home, but not being clear on what they’re looking for, or if they “might as well look for other illegal stuff while we’re there.”

  • http://undefined toronto_llb

    I recognize the examples I mention are absurd, but so is the Criminal Code. Did you know it’s an offence punishable on summary conviction to water ski at night? You would be surprised what an Officer could find to charge you with. The nebulous “interference” charge should be scary enough.
    So lets call this out for what it is – civil rights erosion. Toronto Police aren’t seriously interested in searching everyone’s home. Toronto Police is interested in bluntly carving the population into two groups for the purposes of an efficient investigation:
    Group 1: Good citizens who allow their homes to be searched can be excluded from further inquiry.
    Group 2: Criminals and those who would assert their Charter rights to be left the hell alone by Toronto Police will be further scrutinized.
    Group 2 is most certainly smaller than Group 1 and may stand a greater chance of turning up whatever perp they think they are looking for. But the consequecnes of the investigative tactic are damaging to civil rights.
    First, it impliedly criminalizes or stigmatizes those who jealously guard their Constitutionally protected privacy rights and therefore refuse to co-operate for a lawful reason. Secondly, it threatens and hectors the general population into relinquishing their rights against the state, which is damaging to the existence of civil rights as a whole.
    The police have restrictions on their power for very good reasons and citizens should not be subject to passive aggressive tactics that erode rights others died to uphold.
    Lest we forget.

  • http://undefined wesshepherd

    Mikep–I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Don’t get me wrong–I totally support everything you’re saying–my only divergence from your line of thought is the reason that residents are being asked for permission to enter. That’s the only reason I would allow it.
    And in this case I see it as less an erosion of my rights and more an affirmation that I can and would decide to help out.

  • http://undefined wesshepherd

    Thanks BellaBella!

  • http://undefined EricSmith

    It’s pretty obvious that people who refuse will be looked at with suspicion, which makes this a no-win for unlucky homeowners in the area being searched. Do you accept, only to regret it when you turn out to be in violation of an obscure law, or do you refuse, only to regret it when the cops take an extra-special interest in you and you turn out to be in violation of an obscure law?

    There’s no reason to think that they won’t take a special interest in those who decline searches. From the Globe article, the story of a killer who:

    …first stirred suspicion by being unhelpful in what should have been a routine canvass, and subsequently refused to provide a DNA sample.

    Canvassing for DNA samples is a related approach that was used successfully at least once, in a small community in the U.K., where everyone was so keen to help that there was in the end only one hold-out (guess who). But one imagines that volunteering a tissue sample is much less likely to land you in trouble on an unrelated matter than allowing unfettered access to your home.

    And, anyway, my castle? Not in a fit state for company at the moment. Should I, if I were in the area being searched, tidy up in anticipation of a visit by the police? How suspicious. Should I leave it all messy, with closets full of junk that can’t be searched easily? How suspicious.

    Better yet, what if you, a non-kidnapper, nonetheless happen to own an article of clothing that matches the description of something worn by the missing girl? Suppose that it’s found:

    • out in the open
    • in your laundry basket
    • freshly washed and pressed

    Pick any of the above: how suspicious!

    (And let’s take a moment to consider the plight of the petty criminals in our midst: this all goes even worse for someone who’s actually in violation of a not-so-obscure law — maybe they’re fishing out of season, or something, and, come on, if you were looking for a missing person, wouldn’t you check the chest freezer in the garage?)

    I’d be inclined, given all of this, to grant permission to search my yard, if I had one, and to invite the searchers to call the name of the person they’re looking for through my front door long and loudly. But even then, what if I’ve been gardening recently? Values his privacy, has some bashed up knuckles, and the flower beds have recently been disturbed? How suspicious!

  • http://undefined senior

    What are the police hoping to find? If they go in an innocent person’s house, I’m pretty sure they would have noticed if she was hiding behind their couch.
    If she has been kidnapped and the police come to the kidnapper’s house, won’t he/she have had plenty of warning by now to get rid of any evidence?

  • http://www.newmindspace.com Kevin Bracken

    The innocent have plenty to fear.

  • http://undefined mark.

    Not sure what’s more frightening – police wanting to enter homes looking for ‘whatever’ or that people seem to think this is a good idea.

  • rek

    If you kidnapped her you wouldn’t let the police in to look for her/evidence of the kidnapping, so anyone who (foolishly! stupidly!) agreed to let the police in without a warrant (what!) would just be wasting the police’s time (on this case, anyway).
    Unless you forgot you kidnapped her, maybe?

  • wesshepherd

    Rek, you’re right, as I said, I don’t think a door-to-door will yield much, if anything, but letting the police eliminate a residence is useful because it eliminates one more place that they don’t have to look at again.
    I have to say, after reading the responses here, that as paranoid and anti-authority as I am, I’m very happy to see that I’m not the one out on the far edge of Realitytown.
    Do you guys really believe you are the desperados you are making yourselves out to be? Do you think an officer investigating a missing person is going to waste time writing up a poached salmon? Do you seriously think they are interested in the post-its you filched from your office. Come on–how many of you have actually ever broken the law and are in fear of being caught?
    What I’m reading is a bunch of paranoid “what-if?” posturing in a lame attempt to show that you value your human rights and civil liberties, but I doubt that any of those have ever been trampled on by our police force. Let’s just realize that civil liberties come with the responsibility of being good citizens–you don’t get one without the other.
    For the record in the event of a police request to search my house, I would have to warn them about 2 big dogs (which I’m sure they could nail me on for trying to lick them to death) my sword and knife collection, my WWII memorabilia collection which contains some (gasp!!) Nazi medals and staff car flags, my crossbow, a bunch of frozen rats to feed my python, and guess what, guys—nothing I have is illegal. I know where I stand, why don’t you?

  • http://undefined EricSmith

    nothing I have is illegal. I know where I stand, why don’t you?

    Where I stand is that you can let as many cops into your house to pet your python as you want. Quite aside from all of the theory, I just wouldn’t want people traipsing through my home.

  • http://undefined TOgal

    I have a friend who is a Toronto police officer and I can’t believe the corrupt shit that, he tells me, goes on. I would never let the police in my home. If I know I am innocent of the crime they are investigating then I know searching my home will not help them. So, I don’t feel like I am “not helping” by not letting them in. In fact, I am helping by not allowing them to waste their time in my home.

  • http://undefined Chris Orbz

    If she was hiding at my place, I could figure that out without the help of the police. They can leave their number and I’ll phone it in if she pops up. I can’t grasp any reason for this except that this division must have nothing else to do with their time. Maybe they should send a few officers over to 31?

  • http://undefined Peter K

    I’ve got no problem at all with it. Come on in and have a beer while you’re here.
    All too often we see crimes, especially in certain parts of this city, go unsolved because citizens hush up and don’t want to “snitch”. As far as I’m concerned someone who can help police and choose not to are just as guilty as the criminal who perpetrates the crime in the first place.
    That said, it is your right to say “no”.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    You’re also not allowing them to cross your place off the list of locations they need to search, thereby wasting their time.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    Admit it. You’re really just worried they’d find the doob under your couch.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    I’d be more scared letting an environmentalist or some other “activist” into my house…never know what those freaks would do.

  • http://undefined rek

    If they have reason to think there’s evidence in my house, then they have grounds for a warrant and this issue is moot.

  • http://undefined rek

    You’re confusing the issue. People hush up and refuse to ‘snitch’ because they feel they risk retaliation for helping the police (or even appearing to help the police). The most important part of that situation, though, is they know something about the crime.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    Obviously you don’t understand. They have no clues and no idea where to find evidence. If you allow them access to your house and they presumably find nothing it allows them to narrow down the search.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    And why do you fear the police? What is your deep-rooted issue? Are you really doing something wrong that you wish to conceal or do you just have some ideologically driven anti-police bent?

  • http://undefined AR

    Watch some films about totalitarian states, especially from eastern Europe. You can use innocent facts from someone’s personal private life to make up charges about anyone. If you’re a total innocent conformist with police connections thus saving you from scrutiny, it may be your friends and family who will be incriminated by things you have at home.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    That’s a completely valid point. If this were a Cuba, North Korea, China, or any old Soviet Bloc state I would worry. Fortunately it’s not. This is a democratic country with an independent judiciary and civilian control of police.

  • http://undefined TOgal

    I wish I had faith in what you are saying but, sadly, I think it’s a bit naive.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    Well the only time I in my lifetime I can remember this rule of law being in jeopardy was when Bob Rae decided that the presumption of innocence didn’t apply to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and he wanted people accused to prove their that they weren’t racist. That didn’t last long.
    So our rule of law and civil society stop Bob Rae’s attempt at persecution, I assume it would do the same if someone else tried it now.

  • http://undefined rek

    You miss the point. They’ve come up with a list of possible locations: Everywhere. They have no reason to look in my home, since no evidence points there, but I’m wasting their time? The only way this sort of search could turn up anything useful is if the kidnapper is dumb enough to let the police in without a warrant, and left evidence on display. How likely is that? Again, I’m the one wasting the police’s time? No, Peter, they’re wasting their own time.

  • http://undefined rek

    Why are you so eager to throw your rights away when someone in a uniform asks you nicely? What long-buried kink or psychological need are you trying to express, or do you just wish Canada was a police state?

  • http://undefined Peter K

    I’m quite aware of my rights. But I’m also quite aware of my civic duty to help catch bad people. Apparently you don’t care if a young woman dies.

  • http://undefined rek

    This is a democratic country with an independent judiciary and civilian control of police.
    And if the police asked if we could do away with the independent judiciary and put oversight in their hands, all in the name of fighting crime, there would be people like you who would give them the thumbs up.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    Sure. I trust them way more than I would trust a social activist, or a city of Toronto bureaucrat, or someone completely irresponsible like the Mayor.

  • http://undefined Peter K

    Socialist are so cute when they pretend to actually care about people and the law.

  • rek

    If you want to help catch bad people, join the police academy.
    You want to do your “civic duty” but evidently civil rights mean nothing to you. There’s a joke at the police’s expense in there somewhere.

  • http://undefined rek

    Your troll mask is slipping, Peter.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    This is a democratic country with an independent judiciary and civilian control of police

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read on this site to date. Thanks for the laugh PeterK.

  • TokyoTuds

    I’m with you Rek, and Mike and Eric above.
    The police are wasting there time if they are searching 6,000 homes. Canvassing 6,000 homes is a great idea and I would happily talk with the constable.
    People say, “but what do you have to hide”? That’s my point! I am innocent of this particular crime, I have no information, and I can inform the police that the missing person is not in my home. There: I just saved the police in one minute what might take 10 or 20 minutes or longer. Now they can canvas the next home, or spend more time following up actual leads and tips.
    But I will not consent to a search without a warrant.

  • TokyoTuds

    “Funny, I just finished re-reading E.L. Doctorow’s “The Book of Daniel” on the beach in Cuba. It was published in 1971, but is still a very relevant story of jingoism and spy hysteria.”
    – cross-posted from the Torontoist Cory Doctorow article
    This is also relevant here. Another poster suggested Canada is not North Korea or the communist USSR. “The Book of Daniel” tackles the subject of a couple being convicted and executed in the U.S. for spying when there was no physical evidence.
    To those “who have nothing to hide”: don’t be so naive.