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Police Powers: Stops and Searches

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What if the police question me?

The police can approach you and ask you questions but they must let you go on your way, unless they arrest you or they have grounds to detain you. And if you are not breaking the law, they cannot arrest you only because they think this will stop someone else from acting violently and causing harm to others.

The police have the right to detain you if they are investigating a crime and they have a "reasonable suspicion" that you are connected to the crime. They can detain you only for a short time. If the crime they are investigating is serious, they can detain you a bit longer. They must tell you why they are detaining you.

The police also have the right to detain you at a "roadblock" if they are following up on a report that, a short time before, someone saw people nearby with handguns.

If the police think you might have committed a crime, you may choose to tell them who you are. But, in most cases, you do not have to answer any questions. You can tell the police that you do not want to say anything until you speak to a lawyer.

However, if you have been in a car accident, the police might ask you for information that they require for an accident report. If you do not give this information when they ask you, you could be charged with an offence.

Talking to the police

Anything you say to the police might be used as evidence against you in court. The only statements that cannot usually be used against you are those, like an accident report, which you must make by law, or those that you make at the roadside before you have the opportunity to speak to a lawyer. But the police can use an accident report or roadside statement in deciding whether to make a demand for a roadside test or a breathalyzer test.

Even something you said before you were arrested, or while you were in the police car, could be used against you. This is true even for a statement you have not signed.

If the police have detained or arrested you, they should stop questioning you as soon as you ask for a lawyer. Just say, "I want to speak to a lawyer." You do not have to say anything else. If the police continue to question you, do not say anything. Just ask again to speak to a lawyer.

In Ontario, Legal Aid pays lawyers known as "duty counsel" to provide free legal advice, 24 hours a day. Ask the police for the toll-free telephone number for duty counsel. Or contact a lawyer you know.

In most cases, a lawyer will advise you not to talk to the police. This is usually the best advice. If you do choose to talk to the police, keep in mind that giving false information can be a criminal offence. And if you lie to the police, the fact that you lied might be used as evidence against you.

If you try to stop other people from cooperating with the police, you could be charged with obstructing justice or obstructing the police.

Once you have spoken to a lawyer, the police may continue to ask you questions. Even if you say that you do not want to answer, they can continue to ask. However, you have the right to remain silent and do not have to answer.