R. v. Godoy

[1999] 1 R.C.S. 311
Download Judgment: English French
Country: Canada
Region: Americas
Year: 1999
Court: Supreme Court
Health Topics: Violence
Human Rights: Right to life, Right to privacy
Tags: Domestic abuse, Domestic violence, Law enforcement, Police

In June 1992 four police officers attended an apartment from which an unknown trouble call to the police had originated. An unknown trouble call is an emergency call to the police in which the line is disconnected before the caller speaks. Such calls are deemed by police policy to be the second highest priority distress call, and as they have an element of the unknown, police procedure is to respond with back-up. The appellant answered the door, but refused the police officers entry. After forcing entry to the apartment and surveying the situation, Officer M placed G under arrest for assaulting his wife and, as G resisted the arrest and injured Officer B, he was also charged with assaulting a police officer with the intent of resisting arrest. The trial judge found that an emergency call and then a denial of entry did not constitute reasonable and probable grounds to violate the sanctity of a person’s dwelling house and, therefore the officer’s entry into G’s apartment was unauthorised, and all subsequent actions of the police were illegal. The trial judge’s decision was overturned by the Ontario Court (General Division) which was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal on the basis that there were reasonable grounds to believe there was an emergency in the apartment and the caller was in distress.

[Adapted from INTERIGHTS summary, with permission]

The court held that while there is a recognized privacy interest of residents in the sanctity of their home protected by the right to privacy in section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the interest of the person who seeks assistance by making an emergency call is closer to the core of the values of dignity, autonomy and integrity than the interest of the person who seeks to deny entry. It is reasonable for the police to assume that the caller of an emergency call is in distress and requires immediate assistance. The importance of the police duty to protect life warrants and justifies a forced entry into a dwelling in order to ascertain the health and safety of an emergency caller in a timely manner. The public interest in maintaining an effective emergency response system is obvious and significant enough to merit some intrusion on a resident's privacy interest. However, the authority to intrude is limited to the protection of life and safety and does not extend to a search or other intrusion on those premises. One of the hallmarks of domestic violence is its private nature, but privacy cannot be allowed to trump the safety of household members. In the present case the forced entry into the appellant's home was justifiable considering the totality of the circumstances. The appeal is dismissed and the matter is returned for a new trial on the charge of assaulting a police officer with the intent to resist arrest.

[Adapted from INTERIGHTS summary, with permission]

"While residents have a recognized privacy interest within the sanctity of their home, the public interest in maintaining an effective emergency response system is obvious and significant enough to merit some intrusion on a resident’s privacy interest. However, the intrusion must be limited to the protection of life and safety; the police do not have further permission to search premises or otherwise intrude on a resident’s privacy or property." Page 312.