Incarceration: respect human dignity during strip searches

  • May 31, 2021
Prisoner showing his hands

The complaint

A detainee underwent 24 strip searches in a mere four days. The Québec Ombudsman heard about this and decided to intervene.

The context

  • A detainee was suspected of hiding contraband. In keeping with standard procedure, the detainee was put in solitary confinement. The guards carried out a strip search, but nothing was found.
  • The detainee remained in solitary confinement for several days. During his confinement, he was strip searched repeatedly, sometimes even during the night. In all, the detainee was searched 24 times in four days.
  • While investigating another matter, the Québec Ombudsman was informed of this troubling situation and decided to intervene.

What the investigation showed

  • The Québec Ombudsman obtained an in-house checklist from the correctional facility in question about the procedure when detainees are suspected of hiding contraband. According to the document, these detainees must be systematically strip-searched every four hours. What’s more, the guards can order them to do squats and remain in that position for 10 seconds.
  • In the Québec Ombudsman’s opinion, the checklist described abusive practices that undermined the dignity of detainees.

The outcome

After several interventions by the Québec Ombudsman, the facility agreed to change the document. Now it indicates that strip searches must be carried out in keeping with human dignity and that they must not be abusive or done without just cause.

This case was taken from our 2019-2020 Annual Report.

The Québec Ombudsman ensures that your rights are upheld in your dealings with Québec public services. Are you dissatisfied with the services of a Government of Québec department or agency? Or with those of a health and social services network institution (2nd level of recourse)? File a complaint with the Québec Ombudsman by calling 1-800-463-5070 or use our online complaint form.