Question raised about police searches

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Sarnia Courthouse

Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative

The discovery of an Enniskillen man’s sawed off shotgun prompted concerns about when police can justifiably investigate people at the scene of a drug overdose.

Jonathan Clark, 27, was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to illegally possessing a sawed-off shotgun.

Clark is already serving an 18 month sentence after pleading guilty in December to several assault charges and uttering death threats.

The incident took place nearly two years ago on a March afternoon. Police were called to a home on Aberfeldy Line in Enniskillen for an overdose. Emergency services were able to reverse the overdose effects and save the patient.

When police initially arrived at the scene, they found Clark and another person in a car on the front lawn.

Officers ran the plates and found the car was stolen, and the pair were arrested.
A search warrant was granted for Clark’s house where several stolen items were found. Most notably was the 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun with the serial number ground off.
Defense Lawyer Sarah Donohue says Clark should not have been investigated at all that day.

“This was an investigation that was entered into independently of the reason why the OPP were called to the residence in the first place,” she says.

“The OPP were called to the residence for an overdose call, and then engaged in what the defense submits is an improper investigation into running license plates of vehicles on the property.”

Donohue says this could set a dangerous precedent. “I want to make it very clear that this sentence does not have a chilling effect on persons that are calling in overdose calls in the future.”

Donohue wants to ensure that “persons who are calling in overdose calls in this jurisdiction can rest assured that the police will not investigate unrelated occurrences on the property. They’re there to make sure the safety and welfare of the persons involved is upheld.”

Crown Attorney Sarah Carmody says OPP officers were well within their rights to investigate the vehicle and its occupants.

“It was within plain view, and the police running that license plate was a perfectly appropriate use of their power as to why they were called to the property.”
Justice Deborah Austin acknowledged had the case gone to trial, the nature of the search may have been contested. “There were triable issues in this case, and you have heard a very brief argument from the crown and defense of what would have been several days of trial and evidence about the nature and extent to which police were lawfully searching.”

“The circumstances were somewhat extraordinary, and your household called for assistance because of a life and death overdose situation, and thankfully that person has survived. But that is what launched the steps that were taken that allowed the police to retrieve this item,” says Austin.

However, Austin concluded by telling Clark “You have, in entering your plea, abandoned any Charter application, abandoned raising those issues, and have acknowledged the truth of what was going on with respect to that firearm, and acknowledging your guilt.”
“I’m very sorry for my actions. I’m very happy that the person that was overdosing is still alive. I hope I never have to go through anything like that again,” says Clark before sentencing was finalized.

“I’ve been working on my addictions, and I try to just do the best that I can and turn my life around.”

Donohue says after Clark is released he’s looking forward to “moving completely away from any past association he has had with the local drug subculture, as well as some inappropriate associations in this jurisdiction.”
Clark also received a 10 year firearms ban, must submit a DNA order, and must forfeit the shotgun.