Matthew Stairs v. Her Majesty The Queen

(Ontario) (Criminal) (As of Right)


Criminal law - Charter of Rights - Search and seizure - Application of doctrine of search incident to arrest - Whether the majority of the Court of Appeal for Ontario erred in law in upholding the trial judge’s ruling that the search of the accused’s home was lawful and did not violate his right against unreasonable search and seizure pursuant to s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - Whether the doctrine of search incident to arrest applies, without modification, to searches conducted in a home following a warrantless arrest - What is the standard justifying a warrantless search of a residence as an incident of an arrest?


Case summaries are prepared by the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada (Law Branch). Please note that summaries are not provided to the Judges of the Court. They are placed on the Court file and website for information purposes only.

The appellant, Matthew Stairs, was charged with assault, breach of probation, and possession of methamphetamine for the purpose of trafficking. At trial, he brought a ss. 8, 9 and 24(2) Charter application. He argued that he was the subject of cascading Charter breaches, starting with an unlawful entry into his home and ending with an unlawful search. The application was dismissed and the appellant was convicted of the three charges.

The appellant appealed his conviction of possession for the purpose of trafficking only. The appeal rested on a challenge to the Charter ruling. A majority of the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. It held that the trial judge did not err in concluding that the police had sufficient grounds to arrest him and in concluding that a Feeney warrant was not required to make the arrest inside of the home. The majority also held that the trial judge was right to conclude that the discovery and seizure of the methamphetamine was not a s. 8 Charter breach. The fact that the methamphetamine was sitting out in plain view meant that it could be seized.

The dissenting judge would have allowed the appeal and entered an acquittal for the count of possession in issue. He agreed with the majority’s analysis and conclusion concerning the police entry into the residence, that the police had valid grounds to arrest the appellant, and that the police did not require a Feeney warrant. He disagreed with the majority’s s. 8 Charter breach analysis. In his view, the officers did not have sufficient objectively reasonable grounds to conduct a safety search of the basement living area. The warrantless search breached the s. 8 rights of the appellant and he would have therefore excluded the evidence under s. 24(2) of the Charter. As there was no other evidence on the drug charge, he would have set aside the conviction and entered an acquittal for the count in issue.

Lower Court Rulings

June 18, 2018
Ontario Superior Court of Justice

117/17, 2018 ONSC 3783
Convictions for assault, breach of probation and possession for the purpose of trafficking.
October 27, 2020
Court of Appeal for Ontario

2020 ONCA 678, C66012
Appeal dismissed.