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Supreme Court to hear Langley, B.C. warrantless-search case Friday

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on June 8, 2016.

Blair Gable/The Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada will rule on Friday on a case in which police entered a Langley, B.C., home without a search warrant, and one of the intervenors says the court will determine whether attempting to seize a small amount of drugs justified entering the residence.

Brendan Paterson was convicted of nine offences, including three counts of possession of illicit drugs for the purpose of trafficking, in B.C. Supreme Court in 2012. The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the conviction in 2015, rejecting Mr. Paterson's argument that the RCMP's entry into his residence and the officers' actions before entering were not justified.

Caily DiPuma, acting litigation director for the BC Civil Liberties Association, which intervened in the Supreme Court of Canada case, said in an interview on Thursday one of the pressing issues is whether police can enter a residence simply to seize drugs and not pursue charges, known as a "no-case" seizure.

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"In our view, a no-case seizure does not present the kind of exigent circumstances that the court should require when permitting a warrantless search of a home," she said.

Exigent circumstances are conditions that justify conduct that might not otherwise be permissible or lawful.

Mr. Paterson was arrested in November, 2007. Two police officers arrived at his apartment after a emergency call in which a woman was crying and apparently injured. The woman, who had been in a relationship with Mr. Paterson, was taken to hospital by ambulance before officers arrived. She later told police she had slipped and hit the back of her head and Mr. Paterson had nothing to do with her injury.

When officers knocked on Mr. Paterson's door, he initially did not answer.

Mr. Paterson told the officers he found the woman on the floor when he got out of the shower and helped her up.

The officers said they could smell marijuana coming from inside the apartment and Mr. Paterson admitted smoking some.

Mr. Paterson told police he still had some "roaches" and agreed to hand them over.

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Mr. Paterson attempted to close the door to get the marijuana, but one of the officers put his foot in the way and said he would not let Mr. Paterson out of his sight due to concerns about destroying evidence and officer safety.

Both officers entered the apartment, and one of them spotted a handgun and a bag of pills on an end table, as well as a bulletproof vest. Mr. Paterson was arrested and police "cleared" the premises, finding what they believed to be two large bags of ecstasy and a bag of what appeared to be crack cocaine.

An officer went to obtain a search warrant. The subsequent search turned up three more handguns. Mr. Paterson, in addition to the three counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking, was convicted of four counts of unlawful possession of firearms and two counts of possession of illicit drugs.

In its argument before the Supreme Court of Canada, the Crown said the trial judge "found that there were objectively reasonable grounds to believe marijuana was present inside Mr. Paterson's apartment, and that there were case-specific exigent circumstances making it impracticable for the police to obtain a warrant."

Counsel for Mr. Paterson argued that police "intruded into his home without a warrant believing that he would dispose of these marijuana cigarette butts, even after promising that no criminal consequences would follow if he relinquished them.

"Mr. Paterson submits that the state cannot assert 'exigent circumstances' and peer into the privacy of our homes for evidence of petty crimes without first securing a search warrant," the argument said.

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Mr. Paterson asked that his convictions be set aside and a new trial ordered.

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