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In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada called strip searches “one of the most extreme exercises of police power” and “inherently humiliating and degrading”.

Ontario’s law, however, gives provincial prisons carte blanche to strip search any prisoner, at any time, for any reason.

We believe the law is unconstitutional. CCLA and a woman who has been forced to endure unnecessary strip searches are taking the government to court to demand change.

Why Strip Searches are an Issue

In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada called strip searches “one of the most extreme exercises of police power”and “inherently humiliating and degrading” (R. v. Golden, 2001 SCC 83 at paras. 89-90). Unlike federal prisons, and many other provincial and state prisons in North America, Ontario has no legislated safeguards restricting when these highly invasive searches can take place. 

“Strip searches are inherently humiliating and degrading.”

These are not trivial privacy violations. Prisoners are generally forced to remove all of their clothing, bend over, spread open their buttocks, manipulate their genitalia, remove soiled tampons, and/or cough while squatting naked in front of others. All of their bodily orifices are inspected. 

Strip searches are particularly harmful to those with a history of trauma. A recent meta-study found that about half of the people incarcerated in Canada have experienced childhood abuse. Half of women, and one in five men, have experienced childhood sexual abuse. The real numbers are likely higher due to underreporting that occurs because of the stigma of trauma of abuse.  

The government’s power to imprison a person is an extreme deprivation of liberty. But prisons are not a rights-free zone, and strip searches are one of the most invasive acts carried out by prison authorities. We need clear, strong laws constraining the use of this power to prevent abuse and unnecessary trauma. Ontario’s law does the opposite. Ontario’s Ministry of Correctional Services Act and its regulations grant administrative officials unfettered power to authorize strip searches at any time and in any situation, regardless if there are reasons to justify strip searches. In short, it gives carte blanche to provincial prison authorities to determine who they want to search, when, and why.  

I have been traumatized by far too many brutal strip searches in Ontario’s provincial prisons. Overall, we were treated like animals."

Vanessa, Co-plaintiff.

CCLA's Response: 2022 Litigation

On June 20, 2022, CCLA and an individual who has been forced to endure strip searches launched a constitutional challenge to Ontario’s law governing strip searches in Ontario prisons. Ontario “prisons” include Ontario’s provincial correctional centres, detention centres, jails and treatment centres. Most of the people in Ontario’s provincial prisons are legally innocent, waiting for trial or their release on bail. Out of all the provinces, Ontario has the largest provincial prison population, with over 7000 people detained on any given day.    

The co-plaintiff in this case has spent time in prisons in Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan. Her strip searches in Ontario prisons were significantly more frequent and more intrusive and degrading in comparison. She was strip searched, along with her entire unit, in the yard, even immediately after suffering a miscarriage. She and her fellow prisoners were frequently taunted and mistreated in the process. She prefers not to have her name used publicly due to the stigma and trauma of what she endured. 

Strip searches are humiliating and degrading. They psychologically scar prisoners, many of whom have experienced physical abuse in the past, making rehabilitation harder and increasing the likelihood of future involvement with the justice system. Ontario law needs to put clear limits on these searches. Ontario prisons have been operating without meaningful legal limits for too long. The CCLA is asking the court to strike down Ontario’s overly broad strip search law and require the Government of Ontario to put in legislative safeguards to prevent abuse and unnecessary trauma from strip searches in Ontario prisons. 

The Timeline


June 20, 2022

Constitutional Challenge Launched

CCLA launches a constitutional challenge against the Attorney General of Ontario. 

Latest Updates and Briefs


CCLA Calls for Immediate Reforms to Prison Strip Searches in Ontario, Implementation of Body Scanners as Alternative

TORONTO — The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is demanding the Government of Ontario fix significant…
August 28, 2023

Class Action Launched re Illegal Strip Searches

A major class action is being launched today on behalf of Canadians illegally strip searched…
July 7, 2020
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