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Police Powers: Stops and Searches

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What if the police ask me who I am?

If the police are thinking about arresting you

If the police are thinking about arresting you, they will want to know who you are. There are several reasons you may want to tell them who you are:

  • If the police are looking for someone else, you might avoid being arrested by showing that you are not that person.
  • If the police think that you have committed an offence, and you do not tell them who you are, they could arrest you and hold you at a police station until they find out who you are, or until they have to bring you to court for a bail hearing.
  • If the police think that you have committed a minor offence and you tell them who you are, then, instead of arresting you, they could give you a paper telling you when to go to court.

If you lie about your name or address, you can be charged with obstructing justice or obstructing the police.

If the police are carding or doing street checks

"Carding" is when the police stop you and ask you to identify yourself even though they have no reason to suspect that you have committed a crime or that you have information about a crime. Sometimes carding is called a "street check".

The rules about carding and street checks apply when the police are:

  • investigating possible crimes or suspicious activities
  • gathering information to help them do their jobs

Limits on racial profiling

In general, the police are not allowed to ask you who you are if part of the reason they are asking is only because they think you belong to a specific racialized community. This is true even if they are looking for someone of the same race, sex, and age group as you.

But if they have other reasons to think that you might be the person they are looking for, they may be able to ask you who you are. Here are some examples of such reasons:

  • what you look like, including your height and weight, hair and eye colour, or what you are wearing
  • where they stop you, but not just because it is a place where a lot of crime happens
  • the kind of car you are in
  • who you are with
  • what you are doing

And if you refuse to answer or talk to them when you have the right to refuse, the police cannot use your refusal as a reason to ask you who you are.

What the police have to do during a street check

When the police ask you who you are when doing a street check, they have to tell you:

  • about your right not to answer, and
  • why they are asking.

But they do not have to do this if they think it might put someone's safety at risk.

And they do not have to tell you why they are asking if it might identify someone whose identity they have to protect or if a police investigation would likely be affected.

The police must give you a receipt that includes:

  • the police officer's name and badge number
  • how to contact the Office of the Independent Police Review Director for a complaint against the police
  • who to contact to find out what information the police have about you

The police have to give you a receipt whether you give them information about yourself or not.

If you are thinking about making a complaint against the police, get legal advice. See How do I get legal help? for where to get legal help.

The rules about street checks do not apply when:

  • the police reasonably suspect that a crime has been or will be committed
  • you are being arrested or detained
  • another law says that you have to identify yourself
  • the police are acting under a warrant or court order
  • the police are working undercover when they talk to you

If you are riding a bicycle

If you are riding a bicycle, the police can stop you if they think you have broken provincial or municipal traffic laws. In such a case, you must stop and give them your name and address. If you refuse, they can arrest you.