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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fraser River freshet peak is coming soon

Predictions for 2020 by River Forecast Centre has the freshet peak at the Mission gauge for June 4-5

PHOTOS: Harrison Hot Springs Resort reopens

Reopening both celebrated and sombre as Harrison opens up again

VIDEO: Fraser Valley Bandits super fan celebrates 100th birthday

Abbotsford resident Gladys Sautter surprised by Bandits representatives on big day

Health Care Foundation proceeds with plans for Grand Gala

Second annual fundraiser supports hospitals in eastern Fraser Valley

FVRD flooding evacuation alerts in effect

Unprotected areas affected include parts of Morris Valley Road and Lougheed Highway

VIDEO: A Vancouver Island black bear takes weekend nap in eagle tree

Videos captured by Terry Eissfeldt shows the bear arriving Saturday night and sleeping in on Sunday

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The importance of accurate, ethical reporting is critical – perhaps as never before

NDP getting COVID-19 wage subsidy ‘indirectly,’ B.C. Liberal leader says

B.C. NDP says Andrew Wilkinson is wrong about federal link

Parent, superintendent, trustee report smooth return to classrooms in B.C.

The biggest challenge is convincing families that it’s safe, some say

Two more COVID-19 cases reported by Langley long term care facility

One resident, one staffer have tested positive for the coronavirus

George Floyd asphyxiated by sustained pressure: family autopsy

Death sparked a wave of protests across the U.S. and abroad

Suspect sought in alleged assault, hate crime on Metro Vancouver bus: transit police

The woman then allegedly punched the teenager in the head multiple times

COVID-19: B.C. commercial landlords can’t evict if they decline rent assistance

Emergency order ‘incentive’ for federal program, Carole James says

Most Read