Undercover cops don’t need warrant to email, text suspected child lurers: court

High court decision came Thursday in the case of Sean Patrick Mills of Newfoundland

Undercover police officers do not need to obtain a judicial warrant before using email or instant-message services to communicate with someone suspected of child luring, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

The high court decision came Thursday in the case of Sean Patrick Mills, a Newfoundland man convicted of internet luring after a police officer posed online as a 14-year-old girl named “Leann.”

The constable created an email account and Facebook page for the fictitious girl in 2012 to see if people online were preying on underage children.

The officer received a Facebook message from Mills, who was 32, leading to an exchange of emails that turned sexual.

Police used a screen-shot program to capture and record copies of the communications, but they did not have a court-approved warrant.

Mills was arrested in a St. John’s park where he had arranged to meet the girl.

READ MORE: No jail time for B.C. man busted in Creep Catchers sex sting

Mills argued at trial that police violated his Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee against unreasonable search or seizure and that officers should have obtained a warrant for their investigation.

The trial judge said Mills’ rights had been violated, but still allowed the screen captures into evidence and found him guilty. An appeal court ruled the police did not need judicial approval for their operation and upheld the conviction, prompting Mills’ appeal to the Supreme Court.

All seven Supreme Court judges who heard the case concluded Mills should be found guilty. A majority said that adults cannot reasonably expect privacy online with children they do not know.

In reasons adopted by the majority, Justice Russell Brown wrote that in most cases police are unlikely to know in advance of any potential privacy breach — for example, whether the child is truly a stranger to the adult.

“Here, the police were using an investigative technique allowing it to know from the outset that the adult was conversing with a child who was a stranger.”

Justice Sheilah Martin, however, said police should have obtained a court’s permission for the operation.

She argued the nature of the relationship — an adult communicating online with a child they do not know — was irrelevant to weighing privacy rights.

“Casting suspicion on an entire category of human relationship not only stigmatizes that relationship — it exposes meaningful and socially valuable communication to unregulated state electronic surveillance.”

Brown was careful to note the particular circumstances of the case and stressed that the court was not suggesting police could simply monitor communications in the hope of stumbling upon a conversation that reveals criminality.

“With respect, the alias-based sting operation employed here is not some first step to a dystopian world of mass unregulated surveillance.”

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

VicPD mourns loss of retired police dog, Conan

Conan and human partner helped find missing children, fugitives and more

Harbour authority names dock for Victoria’s record-breaking sailor

Jeanne Socrates is the oldest person to sail around the world unaccompanied

Man who fell 50 feet shares his tale to raise funds for Victoria hospitals

Mitch Lapore helped launch the Victoria Hospital Foundation’s latest campaign

Christmas events set to begin across Greater Victoria

Lights, parades, gingerbread and more are coming to down until the new year

Uncertainty continues to surround body found in Central Saanich

BC Coroners Service say the man in his 20s is from Victoria. His death remains under investigation

VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Other words on the shortlist included ‘extinction,’ ‘climate denial’ and ‘eco-anxiety’

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you plan on making any purchases on Black Friday?

We’ve all seen the images. Shoppers rioting outside of a store in… Continue reading

Algae bloom killing farmed fish on Vancouver Island’s West Coast

DFO says four Cermaq Canada salmon farms affected, fish not infectious

Three cops investigated in connection to ex-Vancouver detective’s sexual misconduct

Fisher was convicted in 2018 after pleading guilty to kissing two young women who were witnesses in a criminal case

Violence response procedures updated for B.C. schools, police

ERASE program expands to target gangs, bullying of students

A pawsitive ending: Missing puppy found after nine-day search in Chilliwack

Pit bull Frankie ran from dog sitter booked through app

Most Read