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What are my rights if the police approach me and ask questions?

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What are my rights if the police approach me and ask questions?

Glossary

Clear language definitions to common legal terms. 

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Reviewed: 
October, 2016
Answer

The police can approach you and ask questions at any time. You don't have to stop and talk to the police if you don't want to. But it’s a good idea to be polite. Your rights are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

You don’t have to stop and let the police ask you questions unless they have:

Even when the police arrest or detain you, you do not have to answer their questions, and you have certain rights.

Right to remain silent

You have the right to remain silent. In most cases, you don’t have to answer any questions the police ask you. Anything you say to the police may be used as evidence.

Right to be told what's happening

You have the right to be told why you're being arrested or detained.

Right to talk to a lawyer

You have the right to talk to a lawyer. The police must tell you that you have this right. If you tell the police you want to talk to a lawyer, the police must allow you to contact a lawyer. You must be allowed to talk to the lawyer in private.

The police must tell you about Legal Aid Ontario. Legal Aid Ontario pays lawyers known as duty counsel to give free legal advice if you've been arrested or detained. This advice is available 24 hours a day. If you've been arrested or detained, you can contact duty counsel immediately. If they don’t tell you, ask the police for the toll-free phone number for duty counsel.

1. Ask if you’re being detained

The police can approach you and ask questions at any time. You don’t have to stop and let the police question you unless they have detained you or arrested you. When the police detain you, this means you are not allowed to leave. When you are detained you do not have to talk to the police. You do not have to answer their questions or give them your name or address if you don’t want to. You do not have an obligation to say anything.

What to say

The police are legally allowed to detain you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re connected to a crime they’re investigating. Being detained isn’t the same as being arrested.

If you’re not sure if you’re being detained, you can tell the police you don’t wish to talk to them. Ask, “Am I free to leave?” If the police say you can go, simply walk away.

If the police say you are not free to go, you’re being detained. You will have to stay until the police allow you to leave.

Your rights

You have the right to be told why you’re being detained.

When the police detain you, they can pat you with their hands to make sure you’re not a threat to them or the public. This is called a protective pat-down search. They aren’t allowed to empty your pockets, purse, or other type of bag. They are only allowed to frisk you to find and take away weapons.

While you’re being detained, you don’t have to answer any questions the police ask you. You have the right to remain silent.

Reviewed: 
January, 2017
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2. Ask to talk to a lawyer

If you’ve been detained, ask to talk to a lawyer right away.

What to say

Tell the police "I want to talk to a lawyer." The police should stop questioning you as soon as you ask for a lawyer. You don’t have to say anything else. If the police keep asking questions, don’t say anything. Ask again to talk to a lawyer.

Your rights

You have the right to talk to a lawyer. The police must tell you that you have this right. If you tell the police you want to talk to a lawyer, the police must allow you to contact a lawyer. You must be allowed to talk to the lawyer in private.

The police must tell you about Legal Aid Ontario. Legal Aid Ontario pays lawyers known as duty counsel to give free legal advice if you've been arrested or detained. This advice is available 24 hours a day. If you've been arrested or detained, you can contact duty counsel immediately. If they don’t tell you, ask the police for the toll-free phone number for duty counsel.

The rights related to talking to a lawyer are called the right to counsel. Always talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police.

Reviewed: 
November, 2016
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3. Remain silent

If you’ve been detained, you have the right to remain silent. 

What to say

If the police are questioning you and you don’t want to answer, tell them. Politely say, “I do not wish to give a statement or answer any questions.” Repeat this statement as often as necessary. By saying this, you make it clear that you have chosen to use your right to remain silent.

Your rights

You have the right to remain silent. In most situations, you don’t have to answer any questions the police ask you. Anything you say to the police may be used as evidence.

If you’re being detained, the police must caution you before asking for a statement. This means they must tell you that anything you say can be used as evidence against you.

It’s usually in your best interest to remain silent. It’s always in your best interest to wait until you've talked to a lawyer before you decide whether to answer questions from the police.

Exception for a motor vehicle accident

If you’re in a motor vehicle accident you may be required by law to give a statement to the police. This statement is called an accident report. You are required by law to give police the information necessary to complete the report.

Your accident report cannot be used against you as self-incriminating evidence, but making an untrue statement is an offence under the Highway Traffic Act. Also, if you lie to the police, you can be charged with obstructing justice.

Reviewed: 
January, 2017
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Learn more about this topic
Office of the Independent Police Review Director
Office of the Independent Police Review Director
Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP)

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