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Canadian Police Randomly Search Homes Without Warrants

Toronto Star/TRACY HUFFMAN | December 7 2005

People in Parkdale are facing an ethical question this week: whether to let police officers into their homes without a search warrant.

But most residents apparently don't mind having the police look around their kitchens and workshops while investigating what appears to be a particularly macabre and brutal crime, one that has horrified the entire neighbourhood.

More than three weeks ago, a city employee found a woman's leg at the Bermondsey Transfer Station. Thirteen hours later, on Nov. 11, a resident on Elm Grove Ave. found her torso in a laneway off Milky Way Lane near Queen St. W. and Dufferin St.

"We've been getting a really good response," said Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux of the homicide squad. Twenty-five officers in a special task force have been going door to door in Parkdale for the past two weeks.

The police believe they have a good chance of identifying the woman. But they say they need help from the community.

"There's a dismemberment site in Parkdale, we believe," said Giroux. "We're asking for the public's co-operation to let us in, let us look around."

Police believe the woman was likely the victim of domestic abuse and had been dead for a few days when her body parts were found.

Giroux said he understands not every resident is comfortable having the police look around.

"We're asking for consent," he said. If police have reasonable grounds to believe a specific residence was used to dismember the woman, they will obtain a search warrant.

"I know people may not want to let us in for reasons unrelated to our investigation ... We're there for a very specific reason, and that reason only. We're making sure people know that," Giroux said.

The overwhelming majority have told police they have no problem with their approach to the investigation and often welcome officers to take a look through their homes, Giroux said. But not everyone believes such investigative techniques are appropriate.

"This type of investigation is problematic. We feel this is a significant intrusion," said Alexi Wood of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

"Armed police officers are asking to be let into homes. We've had at least one call from a member very upset, feeling the police are being very intimidating with this type of activity."

Yesterday, residents in the area said officers have been polite, asking if they own any tools and requesting permission to look in fridges and freezers.

"They weren't in here too long, less than five minutes. They really didn't look around too much," said a resident of Melbourne Ave. who declined to provide his name.

"We're shocked and disgusted by the action itself, not by police knocking on doors ... and asking to come in," he said.

A resident on Cowan Ave. said she is pleased police are taking the case seriously and working diligently to find the woman's identity. "It's very sad that no one seems to be missing her. If the police can get the clues they need by asking to come into our homes, then they should do that."

Wood, of the civil liberties group, said she sees no problem with officers knocking on doors and talking to people about what happened to gather more information, but asking to look inside the home crosses the line.

"Some people think if they don't let the police in, there could be consequences," Wood said. People can choose to exercise their right to refuse an officer entry, she said.

Giroux declined to give specifics about what police are looking for in the homes. Nor would he comment on parallels to the Holly Jones case, when police canvassed the same neighbourhood asking residents to provide DNA samples. Holly was 10 years old when she was abducted, killed and dismembered on May 12, 2003. Green carpet found under her fingernails was one clue that made police suspicious of Michael Briere, who later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Holly's death.

Giroux would not comment on whether police have fibres or other evidence in this case.

Initially it was believed the woman may have been a prostitute or street person, but the veteran homicide officer said they believe the woman is likely a victim of domestic violence who has not been reported missing. That may be because the woman's partner — the one who would normally file a missing person report with police — is responsible for her death.

"My concern is that somebody in a relationship has said, `My wife, or my girlfriend has left me.' And they indicated that she is never coming back, and people are accepting that as a valid explanation," Giroux said. "My concern is that somebody has taken that explanation on its face, and it's not valid."

Pathology tests indicate the woman didn't have a difficult life, said Giroux. She did not have any illegal drugs in her system and she was well nourished.

"She has medication prescribed by a doctor," he said. Codeine and Valium were found in her system, but Giroux was adamant those drugs had nothing to do with her cause of death.

The woman is described as a healthy white female between 30 and 50, with dark brown hair with blonde highlights. She was 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-9, 150 to 170 pounds and had no tattoos on her torso or leg. She had an abdominal scar as a result of a hysterectomy and wore a tensor bandage on her right foot.

An anklet — one of more than 16,000 to 20,000 sold by Avon — was worn on her left foot. It is gold with five butterfly charms, each containing two diamond-like stones. Anyone with information is asked to contact the homicide squad at 416-808-7400, Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477, or online at http://www.222tips.com.

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