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Court suggests Saskatchewan RCMP take 'fresh look' at forcible bra removal

FORT QU’APPELLE, Sask. – A judge in Saskatchewan says an RCMP detachment needs to take a “fresh look” at its procedures after officers forcibly removed the bra of a woman arrested for impaired driving.

Wanda Deschambault was arrested last July after a truck hit a monument in Lebret, about 80 kilometres northeast of Regina.

A provincial court decision recently posted online says Deschambault was told that she would be placed alone in a cell, the door would be closed and she would be allowed to remove the bra herself.

But she refused, so one officer held her arms behind her back while another reached under her shirt to unclasp the bra.

Court heard that shortly after that, Deschambault wrapped her shirt around her neck and was twisting it.

The decision says one officer went into the cell and took her shirt from around her neck. The shirt and her skirt were then taken away, leaving Deschambault with only her underpants.

Judge Barbara Tomkins wrote that “Deschambault was left, nearly naked, distraught in the cell, and when she was observed later to place a mat over herself to cover her nakedness, another officer entered and removed the mat.”

Tomkins wrote that the woman was eventually given a paper suit, but the officers who testified didn’t know when that occurred, so “we do not know how long Ms. Deschambault remained under observation in this undignified, degrading and humiliating state.”

Const. Marcus Crocker testified it isn’t policy, but standing operating procedure for dealing with women prisoners at the Fort Qu’Appelle detachment is to remove their bras.

He testified a woman might use her bra to hurt herself, that wire in an underwire bra might be used as a weapon or a weapon or drugs could be hidden in the undergarment.

Tomkins pointed out that Deschambault was not distraught until the officers took her bra.

The judge also noted that a metal-detecting wand had already gone over Deschambault and nothing was found. As well, she was in a cell by herself so there was no opportunity to exchange contraband.

“I am not satisfied that there were reasonable grounds to require Ms. Deschambault to surrender her bra to the officers, and I am satisfied, therefore, that her Section 8 charter rights were infringed,” concluded Tomkins.

“The taking of the bra by force, for the same reasons, was unreasonable.”

Deschambault applied for a stay of the impaired driving and blood alcohol charges arguing that the search was unlawful. She argued that no one identified her as the driver and the charges couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tomkins agreed with the latter argument and acquitted the woman.

“I do hope that this incident … will result in a decision to review this ‘standing operating procedure’ at the Fort Qu’Appelle detachment,” wrote Tomkins.

“It is time for a fresh look.”

The judge said she wasn’t satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Deschambault “was in, or was driving, the truck that hit the monument.” No one identified her as the driver of any vehicle that day.

The judge also noted that police didn’t analyze paint samples from the truck’s bumper to see if they matched residue on the monument. Nor did they measure the height of the bumper and compare it to the height of the damage on the monument.

— By Jennifer Graham