R v Harrison

2009 SCC 34

This case began when an Ontario police officer on highway patrol noticed a vehicle without front licence plates and activated his roof lights to pull it over. After activating the lights, the officer noticed that the vehicle was registered in Alberta and did not legally require the front plate. Despite the lack of grounds to suspect criminal activity was taking place, the officer nonetheless approached the vehicle and, upon discovering that the accused’s licence had expired, searched the vehicle and discovered 35 kg of cocaine. The accused challenged admission of the evidence based on arbitrary detention contrary to s.9 of the Charter, which resulted in an unreasonable search and seizure under s.8. The Supreme Court agreed with the courts below that the detention without reasonable grounds and subsequent search – which was not justified by the offence of driving with an expired licence – were clear breaches of the Charter. They applied the framework set out in R v Grant, weighing three factors: the seriousness of the conduct, the impact of the breach on the accused’s Charter interests, and society’s interest in having the case adjudicated on its merits. The officer’s conduct was found to be egregious, being done with blatant disregard to the law, resulting in a significant deprivation of liberty and privacy for the accused. While society did have a significant interest in trying the case on its merits, this did not outweigh the other two factors, which favoured exclusion. The Supreme Court therefore allowed the appeal and entered an acquittal.

SCC Reasons for Judgment

Faculty of Law Research and Commentary Discussing R v. Harrison

Kent Roach, “Section 24(2) of the Charter,” (2010) 56 CLQ 365.

Hamish Stewart, “The Grant trilogy and the right against self-incrimination,” (2009) 66 CR (6th) 97.


Date Document
2008 / 08 / 19 Appellant – Bradley Harrison
2008 / 10 / 09 Respondent – Her Majesty the Queen
2008 / 11 / 07 Intervener – Canadian Civil Liberties Association
2008 / 11 / 07 Intervener – Criminal Lawyers’ Association (Ontario)
2008 / 11 / 25 Intervener – Attorney General of Ontario