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Are licence plates fair match for random police checks?

10 Oct 17
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We had been pulled over by police lately. The officer had run my plates and discovered that my license had expired three weeks before. Fortunately, my husband was driving and I just got a warning. I was surprised, partly because I had not realized that my license had expired, but largely because I did not think police were permitted to look at your licence plates unless you had committed a crime. Are they allowed to go fishing like this? — Rose, Vancouver

You may have secrets, but your license plate number is not one of them.

“There is absolutely no issue or civil libertarian problem for authorities to verify your license plate, because of what is known as the ” — objects which are in plain view don’t constitute a search under the Charter,” said Alan Young, associate professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall law school. “After your car leaves your garage, anyone can check your license plate”

So, police throughout the country are permitted to randomly check plates and they do.

“Though the sections of the Highway Traffic Act differ from one state to another, these manage authority for police officers to prevent motor vehicles,” the RCMP said in an email announcement. “Police officers do not want a reason to question licence plates because the plates are identifications that are utilised to identify the vehicles and their owners{}”

Most police forces use (ALPR), where cruiser-mounted infrared cameras — grabbing cars in both directions at more than 100 km/h.

The machine checks the plate to determine if it is on a hit list that includes suspended or expired licences. Additionally, it links to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) to tests plates which are stolen or associated with warrants or Amber Alerts.

In some states, including British Columbia, that list may include drivers with insurance. When the system receives a hit, it alarms officers in the vehicle.

Driving is a “privilege”

“We need to remember that driving is a privilege and not a right,” said Sergeant Jason Robillard, Vancouver police spokesman, in an email. “We can question licence plates without celebrating an overt act, simply to check on the status and validity of the car and the registered owners — the capability to question licence plates is a excellent tool for authorities to help keep the streets safe.”

And authorities say ALPR helps them find things — such as motorists with expired licences — which they may not find otherwise.

“People can be driving a Mercedes and have a suspended permit for drunk driving,” said Leutenant Jason Allard, Sûreté du Québec spokesman. “It is the most subjective system we’ve got”

But, random plate assessing — instead of searching for a particular vehicle since there’s a warrant out — is supposed to be exactly that: random.

“Let’s say you have an officer that you can record has just assessed licence plates from African-Canadians,” Young said. “Then you’ve got a constitutional problem — but the question is one of evidence.”

When can police pull you over?

Authorities can run your plates any time, even if they are not on the hit list. And any time they find something, police can pull you over.

Despite the fact that police say everyone is treated equally, they may not be, said Toronto criminal lawyer R. Roots Gadhia.

“It will become invasive, if, as an instance, they visit a young black man in the vehicle and they punch in the driver’s plate because they wish to find out who is driving,” Gadhia said.

And, police can stop you even if they don’t find something. They can If you have broken a traffic law — or simply to look at your license, insurance and registration status, mechanical fitness of the car or whether you are sober.

“Any person on street could be stopped by an officer for just about any reason, even just to look at your documentation,” Gadhia said. “Admittedly, some officers will abuse that power and go after folks in a manner that is targeting. They may say your tail light is out or you did not signal, which can be petty Highway Traffic Act offences, but it might elevate out there to a search or detention.”

If you are stopped by police for any reason, be considerate, Gadhia said.

“Being rude to an officer can spin out of control,” she said. “Have your documents in order and ask him ‘Can I ask the Reason I am being pulled over?’ “

If you do not agree with what the officer is saying, do not argue.

“Wait it out and see if they’ll ticket you,” Gadhia said. “If they do ticket you, then fight it [in court]. Just do not fight with the officer{}”

Privacy concerns?

Licence-plate scanners listing thousands of plates each day — even if your plate is not on the hit list. The machine still displays the date, time and location of where you were scanned — even though you have not committed an offence. As an example, a database may potentially show where you were parked at 7 p.m. last Tuesday.

“You could collect a fairly good idea of where people are at different times if you wanted to use it as a surveillance tool,” stated Brenda McPhail, manager of the solitude, surveillance and technology job with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “When there is no threat, that non-hit information shouldn’t be retained.” Policies on how long the information is retained vary by state, McPhail said. In 2012, B.C.’s Privacy Commissioner To prevent sharing non-hit data together with the RCMP.

In British Columbia, the non-hit license plate numbers are deleted at the end of each day — which ought to be carried out anywhere, McPhail said. “They will still record the time and date and GPS co-ordinates — but no license plate”

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Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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