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Do the police have the legal authority to enter your home to end an argument that turns physical?

By: Steven Benmor, B.Sc., LL.B., Family Lawyer

Jurisdiction: Ontario (Canada)

In the April 29, 2003 case of R. v. Sanderson, the Court of Appeal of Ontario decided that they do. In that case, David Sanderson assaulted his girlfriend, Karen MacLaurin, and threatened to kill her dog and burn her property. Ms. MacLaurin fled the house shoeless and in her pyjamas in the middle of the night and went to a friend’s apartment. The police were called, and 4 officers accompanied Ms. MacLaurin to the house to retrieve her property. Ms. MacLaurin let herself and the officers into the house with a key. She wanted to get some of her belongings from the bedroom, but Mr. Sanderson stood in the bedroom doorway and refused to move out of the way when he was asked to do so by the police. He was arrested and criminally charged. At trial, Mr. Sanderson was convicted of a number of criminal offences relating to the alterca­tion with Ms. MacLaurin, but he was acquitted of obstructing a peace officer on the basis that the conduct of the police in the residence was unauthorized. The trial judge held that, once the officers decided not to arrest Mr. Sanderson upon their arrival at the house, they ought to have left the house and pursued alternate remedies to protect Ms. MacLaurin’s property, and should have advised Ms. MacLaurin to wait and do nothing until the morning.

However, the Court of Appeal of Ontario reversed this decision and ruled that the police had the authority to enter Mr. Sanderson’s home in order to discharge their duty to preserve the peace and protect property, and their entry did not involve an unjustifiable use of police power. The appellate court stated that there is now a much greater recognition by the police of the extent and seriousness of the consequences for victims of violence when the police fail to respond. It is very much in the public interest that the police, in the discharge of their public duties, be willing and able to assist victims of domestic violence with leaving their relationships and their residences safely and with their belongings. That is precisely what the police did in this case.

Steven Benmor

About the author: Steven Benmor practices Family Law in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Visit Steven Benmor’s online Family Law Resource Center for concise answers to many more frequently asked Family law questions, feature articles on Family law topics, dozens of links to other Family law websites, and more at The information on this page is for discussion purposes only. It is by no means legal advice or even a statement of the law on this subject. Please do not rely on the accuracy or completeness of this information. Any question or concern elicited by the information on this page should be taken to a lawyer who will consider the facts of each case and the legal remedies available.