Please Note: Affordable Defence cannot verify Ontario warrants remotely due to privacy and legal constraints. In-person visits to a police station with photo ID are required for confirmation. Visit your local police station for accurate warrant information; phone or online checks are not available due to security requirements.

If the police have a search warrant for your home or property in Toronto, it means that they possess a written order from a judge or justice of the peace providing the right to search a specific place, look for specific items, and take specific items that they find.

In Ontario, a valid search warrant includes the following:

  • The address of the place they are permitted to search
  • The date(s)/times when they can conduct the search
  • Details of the items that the police are looking for

It also includes:

Some search warrants allow searches only during the day and others include nighttime too, but searches are usually conducted in daylight hours. There are strict rules governing what the police can and can’t do.

You have rights even in the most troubling situation and it’s important to know what these rights are if you ever get a knock on the door from police with a search warrant.

What is the right to “reasonable search and seizure”?

A search warrant grants the police the right to reasonable search and seizure only. This is a vague term but you are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms from unreasonable search and seizure.

A valid warrant means that the police have the right to:

  • Enter your property
  • Conduct a brief search to make sure that the property is safe
  • Frisk you to search for weapons if there is a reasonable threat

The definition of “reasonable” can be argued in legal terms but, for instance, the police cannot damage your property without good reason.

However, you should know that if the police knock on your door with a valid search warrant and you do not open it, they can break it down. The police can also use “reasonable force” when conducting the search.

It’s important, however, for a criminal defence lawyer to understand the precise actions of the police when they ask to enter your home and what they do inside. It can greatly aid your defence if you are charged with a crime and the police act unlawfully.

Sometimes, evidence discovered during an illegal search and seizure can be declared inadmissible in court.

Do you have the right to leave?

If the police have a search warrant, they have the right to enter and secure the property. This means that once they are inside, they will do an initial search to check who is present and to ensure that it is safe.

You may be handcuffed during the initial search but, after that, you are usually free to leave unless you are detained by the police. If you are detained, you have the right to be informed of this.

Can you talk to a lawyer?

If and when the police inform you that you are being detained, you have the right to talk to a lawyer. The police must inform you of this right.

You can instruct the police that you want to speak to a lawyer in private. The police must permit it and inform you that you have the right to free legal assistance if required.

What should you do if faced with a search warrant?

If you get a knock on the door and are confronted by police with a search warrant, you can protect your rights but do it respectfully and courteously.

Taking certain steps will check that the police follow the correct procedure. However, assert your rights without inflaming the situation by acting aggressively or belligerently.

Generally, following these five steps will help:

If the police tell you that they have a search warrant, ask to see it. The police must show it to you.

Check that the warrant includes the correct address, the correct date and time and a signature of the authorizing judge or justice of the peace. If there are any errors on the warrant, you can tell the police that you refuse entry to your property on that basis. Sometimes, however, search warrants are still valid even with small errors. Never forcefully try to prevent police from entering.

Remember, if the police believe that there is a threat of violent behaviour, they can enter a property without providing notice to the occupants or showing the warrant. They are also entitled to use reasonable force to enter the property with a valid search warrant.

If the search warrant is valid, you should allow the police to enter your home or property. If you refuse a lawful search, you can make matters worse and face a charge for obstructing the police.

If the police use excessive force or damage your property, your criminal defense lawyer will want to know as it may aid your defence.

Police with a valid search warrant can enter and secure the building. This includes preventing the occupants from leaving, restraining them at first with handcuffs before deciding on the next steps.

You may not be allowed to leave while this is happening but you can ask to use the bathroom, drink water, etc.

After the property has been secured, ask politely if you are free to leave. If not, the police must inform you that they are detaining you or arresting you. If you are not free to leave, make sure that you know whether you are being detained or are under arrest. They are not the same.

If you are detained or arrested, you have the right to speak to your criminal defence lawyer and should ask the police to do so. It is generally best to remain silent until you can talk to your lawyer in private.

Once the above has been established, let the police conduct their search. They must respect your property but are allowed to move furniture, empty drawers and search your private belongings without putting them back where they found them.

Depending on the warrant, the police may only be permitted to search a particular area of the property. It’s important to be aware of the limits of the search warrant by asking to see it when the police first request entry.

The police generally have no right to search you or other occupants of the property (or ask you to turn out your pockets) but they can pat you down if there is reasonable suspicion that you have a weapon or pose a threat to the safety of police officers (a “protective pat-down”). They may also search you if you have been arrested or believe you have evidence on your person (e.g., drugs).

Try not to complain or say too much when the police are searching. Stay silent and do not try to assist the police. Providing the search is conducted reasonably, it is probably lawful.

If the police find something of interest related to their search warrant, they can take the items and can also remove illegal items.

Police in Ontario cannot lawfully prevent you from taking pictures or video of what happens during a search conducted in your home or a public place, though they may protest if you do. It is particularly important to get photos if they damage your property in any way.

If you do not have your phone, take precise notes of what happened and what the police said after knocking on your door.

Have you been served with a search warrant in Ottawa?

If you believe that an unlawful search may have been conducted at your home or are being investigated for any criminal matter, contact an experienced criminal lawyer at Affordable Defence for a free case evaluation.

Please Note: Affordable Defence cannot verify Ontario warrants remotely due to privacy and legal constraints. In-person visits to a police station with photo ID are required for confirmation. Visit your local police station for accurate warrant information; phone or online checks are not available due to security requirements.