No-knock warrants are under scrutiny in the U.S. In Canada it’s called ‘dynamic entry.’ What is this police tactic and how is it used?

·4 min read

No-knock search warrants are being reviewed throughout the U.S. since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her home. Louisville police were conducting a no-knock search related to her ex-boyfriend who was not in the house at the time.

In Canada, there is a similar search tactic known as “dynamic entry” and it played a role in the death of Anthony Aust. The 23-year-old jumped to his death from his family’s Ottawa apartment in the midst of an Ottawa police search that involved a dynamic entry. It has been reported that other members of Aust’s family, including his stepfather who has pre-existing health conditions, were home at the time.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is investigating Aust’s death. Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly has said the force will continue to review how decisions are made to execute dynamic entries, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

Robin Browne, the co-lead of 613-819 Black Hub a policy and advocacy group in Ottawa, has questions about how the warrant to search the Aust house played out. Even if someone is being investigated, “they’re still a member of the public and the police have an obligation to keep them safe,” Browne said.

The Star had a lawyer explain how dynamic entries work in Canada, the reason police use them and the issues they can pose.

Mark Ertel, a criminal defence lawyer based in Ottawa, worked a case where in February this year, a Ontario Superior Court judge found that the Ottawa police department’s routine use of dynamic entries displayed “serious misconduct.”

Dynamic entries, Ertel explained in an interview with the Star, are a departure from what is supposed to be the norm in a search: police knock, announce themselves, have the people inside come out while officers search the home.

Instead, a dynamic entry can involve a number of other methods including a battering ram, or use of distraction devices, which is seen being used in a video captured in the search of Aust’s home.

Ertel says these are sometimes called flash bang devices. They are used to distract by emitting smoke, light and a sound between 170 and 180 decibels — louder than a jet engine or gun shot which are usually 130 to 140 decibels. At close range it can cause permanent hearing damage.

The reason for dynamic entries is to ensure suspects do not have the opportunity to dispose of evidence or if police suspect weapons are in the home, that suspects do not have the chance to get them. These tend to be cases where police are looking for drugs or guns.

The idea is to maintain safety, but Ertel says that the tactics can risk the safety of those inside; in some cases, the suspect is not the only one present in the home.

“It sounds like a bomb has just gone off in your house,” Ertel said. “Anybody who’s got any kind of heart condition, anybody who’s got any kind of mental health condition … I can just imagine it would be awful.”

“It’s just a highly charged situation,” Ertel said.

In the U.S. no-knock warrants are signed off on by a judge. In Canada however, they do not require approval. In Ottawa, there’s protocol that dynamic entries are authorized by police — whichever officer on duty has the highest rank — and not a judicial body, which Ertel says still poses a problem.

Considering the fact that it’s police officers who have been investigating a case and have a vested interest in collecting evidence, Ertel says it would be difficult for them to make an objective decision about if the unannounced entry is necessary. Whereas a judge could decide if a dynamic entry makes sense, without a connection to the investigation.

“I think as a society, we have to decide what’s important to us,” Ertel said. “If it’s that important to us that we don’t lose some amount of cocaine, that we’re prepared to take the risks associated with this, then we should just go ahead and do it.” But if the public is endangered in the process, it’s a bad trade-off, he said.

Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering inequity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: afrancis@thestar.ca

Angelyn Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star