Your rights are enshrined in Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s important to know your legal rights when dealing with the police. These rights form part of the foundation of our legal system and are in place to protect your privacy and liberty. A failure to know and utilize these rights can lead to there erosion and put you in greater legal jeopardy.
When can I be stopped by the police?
There are three general circumstances under which a police officer may stop you:
- If they see you committing a crime.
- If they suspect you have committed a crime.
- If you are driving.
Unless you have been arrested or detained by the police, you are free to go. This can be done simply by asking the officer if you are under arrest or detained. If the officer say no, you may leave. If the officer says yes, ask for what you are arrested or why you are being detained. You have the right to be informed why the police are arresting or detaining you.
Do I have to answer questions asked by the police?
In most cases, you are under no obligation to answer any questions asked by the police. This is the your right to silence, or right to not self-indeterminate. However, always maintain a friendly and polite attitude while dealing with an officer.
If you have been pulled over by the police when you are driving, the police are typically allowed to ask you questions regarding your driver licencing, registration, and insurance. The police are tasked with ensuring roadway safety, including ensuring that you are not impaired by drugs or alcohol, and that your vehicle is mechanically safe to drive.
The police may ask to see your driver’s licence, car registration and insurance. If any of these documents are in the glove compartment, be sure to tell the officer that you are reaching for the document before doing so. You are required to provide this information by law, and a failure to comply may result in you being charged with an offence.
If the police suspect you have been drinking alcohol or have been impaired by a drug, the officer may ask you to conduct a field sobriety test, provide a breath, or provide a saliva sample to determine if you are under the influence. If you fail or refuse to comply with the request, you will be criminally charged for failing to provide a breath or saliva sample. If the test come back positive, the officer may arrest you for impaired driving.
If you have been arrested or detained by a police officer, it’s your right to be informed of the reason for the arrest or detention. The officer is also obligated to inform you that you have the right to speak with a lawyer and to give you an opportunity to do so before asking you questions. Whatever the situation, it’s important to consult with a lawyer before answering any of their questions.
Can the police search my car?
The police cannot search your car when they pull you over. However, they are allowed to look in the windows of your car, and may use a flashlight during the night to do this. If they see an illegal substance in your vehicle in plain view, they will place you under arrest and then have the ground to search your vehicle for officer safety and for the purpose of their investigation.
Can the police search me?
The police generally don’t have the power to search you, unless you have been placed under arrest or if you have consented to be searched. If the police insist on searching you, make it clear to them you do not consent. However, do not resist or fight as this will likely result in you being arrested and criminally charged. If the search was conducted illegally, your lawyer will be able to address the issues afterwards.
The police may temporarily detain you if they suspect you are involved in a crime. They are not permitted to conduct a full body search, but only a pat down for officer safety. During this detention, you are not required to answer any of their questions.
If you are arrested, the police have the power to search you and anything you are carrying (such as a bag, purse, or backpack). If you have been arrested in your car, the police have the power to search your car as well. The purpose of the police search upon arrest is to ensure the safety of the officers and the public, to uncover evidence related to the offence, and to prevent the destruction of evidence.
What if the police come to my home?
If the police come to your home, you are not required to answer the door, or allow them entry. You must only allow them entry in the following circumstances:
- They have a warrant to enter and arrest.
- They have a warrant to enter and search.
- They have an urgent reason to enter your home (entry is necessary to prevent death or serious injury).
What if the police have a search warrant?
A search warrant is granted to the police by a judge when they have present reasonable grounds to believe that evidence of a crime will be recovered during a search of a property. The search warrant allows the officers to search your home and take certain items that they find. The officer will seize all items that are illegal or that otherwise may be used as evidence to prove an offence.
In the course of executing a search warrant, the police must identify themselves and ask your permission to enter. At this time, the officer should present you with a copy of the search warrant. If they do not, politely ask to see a copy of the search warrant. The warrant will contain information with respect to the suspect’s name, address of the search, and time limits for when the search warrant must be executed. If the warrant is not valid or contains inaccurate information such as with respect to the address, you may refuse to allow them entry. If you refuse, they may still enter your residence without your permission. Any attempts to prevent an officer from entering your home may result in the police charging you with obstructing a police officer.
Property seized by the police may become the subject of a forfeiture proceeding, or evidence in a case against you. If a forfeiture order is not granted for seized items, they are to be returned to you at the conclusion of your legal proceedings. If the seized property is not returned, you may contact a lawyer to assist with this process.
What if I am arrested? Do I have to answer police questions?
Upon arrest, it is your right to be promptly advised of the reason for your arrest. If you have been arrested and are unsure of the reason, you may politely ask the officer the reason for your arrest. You also have the right to speak to a lawyer immediately. If you don’t have a lawyer, the police are required to connect you to one for free and provide you a telephone in order to make the call. The call to the lawyer should be conducted in privacy. The police must not ask you any questions until you have completed your call. When being questioned by the police, you do not have to answer any of their questions. This is your right to silence.