The question for the judge in the end was simple — did Doods, a German Shepherd police dog, sit or not?
If she did then police had grounds for searching a minivan for drugs — in which they found 27,500 pills of deadly fentanyl. But if Doods didn’t sit, then the stop and search could be considered illegal.
Unfortunately for the police, Doods was seen only to give a “partial” sit which the judge ruled was “highly ambiguous,” and certainly not a clear signal that drugs were present in the minivan.
In the end, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Brundrett found in a pre-trial ruling that the search was illegal and the five 17.5-lbs bags of pills were therefore excluded from the evidence. The driver, Sandor Rigo, was acquitted.
“The dog and the signal that the dog gives, we’re relying on that to give the police officers what they don’t have, and that is, grounds to make an arrest, detain the person, start the criminal process,” said Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Spratt. “Those are pretty extreme powers.”
Court challenges to a sniffer dog’s behaviour aren’t particularly common, said Spratt, and the ruling says counsel were not able to provide any other Canadian cases where a dog had given an ambiguous alert.
“When you’re looking at what the dog actually does, you’re starting from a point when you don’t have grounds to make an arrest or to engage in a search, so the dog has to get you over that hump of reasonable grounds,” said Spratt. “If the dog is equivocal in their behaviour, then it’s, I think, a legitimate argument to say it doesn’t give you that extra evidence you need.”
Read the Tyler Dawson’s article: National Post