I got the chance to speak to Abby Deshman, a lawyer and the Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association about what telewarrants are, how they should be used and what rights you have if faced with a search warrant.
Editor's Choice: Quebec Has Updated Its Count Of COVID-19 Cases In Schools
What is a telewarrant?
A telewarrant is a process by which the police can use a phone (or fax machine) to get a warrant by a judge.
It can be a search warrant, like in this case.
In practical terms, it means that the police that wants to get into your house, for example, who doesn't have your consent to enter, could get on the phone with the judge, give the evidence that they feel supports their application for the warrant, and if they have sufficient evidence, the judge could authorize that warrant. Then, they'd be able to get into your house without your permission or consent.
Telewarrants, themselves, are not new. They've been in the Criminal Code for quite a while.
They are relatively new to the Quebec Code of Criminal Procedure. There are also new provisions in that code to general warrants... these came into force in June.
What do police officers need to get the warrant?
All kinds of evidence can form part of an application for a search warrant, including photos. In these cases, we're looking at the sworn statement of the police officer.
Officers do need to show reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence is being committed before they should apply for the search warrant.
They also need to show that gaining access to your residence would give more evidence.
It's more than a suspicion or a hunch — there actually has to be fairly solid evidence that an offence is being committed.
What are your rights when it comes to a search warrant?
You do have a right to see the warrant. Although, exactly how that will play out in this context, we're not entirely sure because, obviously, they're not going to have the same piece of paper that they would have if the judge had issued it in court.
If a police officer comes to your door and says they have a warrant, you should ask to see whatever confirmation they have and read whatever they give you. It may set out limits in terms of where they can go and what they can search.
You are also under no obligation to enable any further search. They may be able to go in and search, but that doesn't mean that you have to go in and help them.
The best way to assert your rights is to ask for the information, state your position clearly, ask to speak to a lawyer and make sure you take note of what happens, which includes recording any interaction with an officer — it is within your constitutional rights to do so.
If a situation were to occur where an officer does not comply with the law and your rights, you can complain to independent oversight bodies, you can access legal assistance or you can get in contact with one of many organizations across Quebec that are providing assistance to people, particularly in regards to policing and COVID-19.