Inventory Searches

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General Principles

See also: Ancillary Powers Doctrine

Certain provincial vehicle Acts permit an officer to conduct an inventory search of a vehicle that is being impounded.[1] This also applies where a vehicle is being seized due to being parked in an unsafe location.[2]

The rationale for the power to do an inventory does not flow from the nature of the investigation but rather is based on the interests of:[3]

  • person who owns the property and wishes the police to safeguard the property while it is in police custody;
  • public safety who are concerned contraband being held by police or in authorized storage facilities;
  • police desire to protect against civil liability for loss or damage to property found in the vehicle.

Towing Vehicle
A decision on the part of police to have a vehicle towed does not necessarily always justify an inventory search.[4] The police should turn their mind to other options besides impounding the vehicle.[5]

Contents of Bags
The power to conduct inventory searches of vehicles may also permits the opening and examining of the contents of bags found within the vehicle.[6]

Inventory searches do not extent to situations where an officer is assisting a sheriff's officer in executing an eviction order, such that bags are opened for examination.[7]

  1. e.g. Highway Traffic Act (ON), s. 172
  2. R v Russell, 2017 BCPC 60 (CanLII) - re s. 188 of BC Motor Vehicle Act
  3. R v Cooper, 2016 BCPC 259 (CanLII) at para 16
    R v Wint, (2009) 2009 ONCA 52 (CanLII), 93 O.R. 514 (Ont.C.A.)
    R v Nicolosi (1998) 1998 CanLII 2006 (ON CA), 127 CCC (3d) 176 (Ont.C.A.)
    R v Ellis, 2013 ONSC 1494 (CanLII)
  4. R v Harflett, 2016 ONCA 248 (CanLII)
  5. e.g. R v Martin, 2012 ONSC 2298(*no CanLII links)
  6. R v Wint, 2009 ONCA 52 (CanLII)
  7. R v Stevens, 2011 ONCA 504 (CanLII)

See Also