A police officer cannot ask a driver for their cellphone during a traffic stop, according to a ruling on Thursday by the Quebec Police Ethics Committee.

Three years ago, Steve Lemire of Shawinigan was pulled over by an SQ officer for driving while talking on his cell phone. The officer demanded to see the phone to check the list of calls, but Lemire refused. After being threatened with an obstruction of justice charge, Lemire handed the phone over and was given a ticket.

The committee ruled that the officer abused his power and had no right to look at personal data on the phone.

“[Police] just have to note that the person is in possession of a cell phone. They don't need, they're not entitled to go further than that, to seize the telephone, to look at it, to punch in it, to see if there's any calls that were made. It’s limited to the fact they saw an individual driving with a cell phone and possessing a cell phone. They cannot go further than that,” said criminal defence lawyer Debora De Thomasis, who read the ruling but was not involved in the case.

According to the ruling, the officer will be given a sanction for violating Lemire’s rights, which could range from a warning to a suspension.

De Thomasis explained that when investigating criminal offences, police can, in certain situations, seize cell phones, but that this ruling has to do with statutory offences, not criminal offences.