In Canada, you have the right to remain silent. This right is constitutionally protected and enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In most cases, you have no obligation to provide any information to the police. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. Here are a few examples:
- If you are arrested, you must tell the police your name, address, and date of birth.
- If you are the driver or registered owner a motor vehicle, the Traffic Safety Act requires that you provide information to the police in certain circumstances. For example, the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident is required by law to complete collision statement.
- If you are participating in a regulated activity (for example, if you are a commercial truck driver or are a hunter) the laws and regulations that govern the regulated activity may require you to provide certain information to the investigators or regulators.
In general, though, you do not need to give the police any information or assist a criminal investigation in any way. If you are unsure about whether you have to cooperate with the police, or how much information you are legally required to give the police, you should always consult with a lawyer. A lawyer can help advise you about what you have to tell investigators (if anything), and what information you do not need to provide.
AM I ALLOWED TO LIE TO THE POLICE?
No. While you have the right to remain silent, you do not have the right to lie to the police. Lying to a police officer who is investigating an offence may constitute “obstructing a peace officer” or “obstruction of justice.” These are serious criminal offences in themselves. If you are charged with an offence, lying to police will also hurt your ability to defend yourself in court.
THE POLICE WANT ME TO COME INTO THE STATION OR MEET THEM SOMEWHERE. IT SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE MAY HAVE TOLD THE POLICE THAT I BROKE THE LAW. WILL THEY ARREST ME WHEN I MEET WITH THEM?
They might. If the police want to meet with you and it seems like they are investigating you for having committed an offence, there is a good chance that the police do not just want to “meet with you,” but also plan to arrest you and try to take a statement from you.
Sometimes, the police ask to meet with people when they already have a warrant for the person’s arrest. Other times, they have enough evidence to arrest someone and they simply want the person to meet them so they can be formally placed under arrest. And in other cases, the police do not have enough evidence to charge someone, and they are hoping the person tells them something that gives them enough evidence to arrest them.
If the police want to meet with you, you should consider calling a lawyer for advice before meeting with them. (See below.) If you meet with the police and they tell you that you are under arrest or that you are being detained, tell them you want to speak to a lawyer immediately. You have the right to speak with a lawyer before the police question you or attempt to take a statement from you.
THE POLICE WANT TO SPEAK WITH ME AND “GET MY SIDE OF THE STORY.” I THINK THEY ARE INVESTIGATING ME FOR A CRIMINAL OFFENCE. WHAT SHOULD I KNOW?
If the police think a person may have committed an offence, it is not unusual for them to contact the person and ask them to give a statement about the incident. They may call and say they want to “set up a meeting” to “discuss an incident.” Or they may say that they want to “give you a chance to tell your side of the story” so they can “decide how they are going to handle things.” They may say “this is your opportunity to tell us what happened” or warn you that “if you do not speak with me, I will have to assume everything (someone else) told me is true, and that’s how I will write my report.”
What the police the police will not tell you, however, is: “We want you to speak with us because we hope that you will tell us something that can be used against you.” It is important to remember that by the time the police have contacted you and asked to meet with them, the police may have already decided to arrest you and lay a charge against you. While there is a chance you could tell the police something that causes them to decide not to charge you, it is also possible that you will say something that hurts your ability to defend yourself. There may be “another side to the story,” but if the police are told two different versions of what happened, they will often decide to lay a criminal charge and let the matter get sorted out in court.
Even if you are innocent, there are still risks to speaking with the police. For example, it gives the police an opportunity to investigate your version of events and try to “poke holes” in your story. It also gives the prosecutor a preview of what you might say at a trial, which can make it easier for the prosecutor to prepare the case against you.
It is also important to remember that you may be guilty of a crime even if you think you are completely innocent. There are hundreds of different criminal offences, and some of them cover a very wide range of behaviour. You might tell the police what you think is a reasonable explanation for why something happened – but you might also be admitting that you committed a crime.
In addition, although you may not have committed a criminal act yourself, you could be guilty of a criminal offence because you helped or encouraged another person who committed the offence. Some people speak with the police assuming that they are simply a witness, but end up saying something that causes the police to think they may be guilty as an “aider or abettor,” or an “accessory after the fact.”
If there is any chance that the police are investigating whether you broke the law, should always speak to a lawyer before you say anything to the police. A lawyer can explain the risks and benefits of speaking with the police, and give you advice about how you should proceed.
CAN I SPEAK TO THE POLICE “OFF THE RECORD” OR GIVE AN “INFORMAL STATEMENT”?
There is no such thing as “off the record” with a police officer. Anything you tell a police officer, at any time, can be used against you. It is also important to remember it is not just signed or written statements, or formal audio or videotaped statements, that can be used against you.
Anything you admit to an officer, over the phone or in person, can be instantly recorded by the officer in his or her notebook and used against you at a trial.
IF I SPEAK WITH A LAWYER BEFORE I TALK TO THE POLICE WON’T THAT MAKE ME “LOOK GUILTY”?
Many people worry that speaking with a lawyer will make the police think they are guilty, or make it look like they have something to hide. It is important to remember that, if you are charged with an offence, the prosecutor cannot argue that it is more likely you are guilty because you spoke with a lawyer. Innocent people and guilty people both need legal advice.
Ultimately, whether you “look guilty” is less important than whether it can be proven you are guilty. A lawyer can give you the important advice you need to prevent making a mistake that cannot be undone.