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Police Powers: Stops and Searches

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What if the police stop me while I am driving?

The police can stop you while you are driving and ask to see your driver's licence, and your car registration and insurance. If you do not show them these documents, you can be charged with a provincial offence.

The police have the right to stop you even if they have not seen you break the law. But they are not supposed to stop people because of their race. If this happens you might want to get legal advice.

If the police have "reasonable grounds" to believe that you have been racing on a highway or performing a "stunt", they can take your car away from you and require you to give them your driver's licence. If this happens, you will not get your car back for at least 7 days and your licence will be automatically suspended for 7 days.

If the police want to find out whether you have been drinking

If the police suspect that you have been drinking alcohol, they can demand that you take a roadside breath test. They can also demand that you do "physical coordination tests" at the roadside. For example, you might be asked to perform a walk-and-turn test or to stand on one leg or to follow an object with your eyes. These tests are meant to check whether alcohol has impaired your ability to drive.

The police can also demand that you take a roadside breath test even if they do not have any reason to suspect that you have been drinking alcohol. They can do this if:

  • they have a roadside breath test device, and
  • they were acting lawfully when they stopped you.

If the police have reasonable grounds to believe that your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol, or that you have more than the legal limit for alcohol in your blood, they can demand that you go with them to a police station to do a breath test for alcohol. This kind of test is sometimes called a "breathalyzer test".

The police can demand a breathalyzer test even if they did not see you driving and they do not know when you last drove.

Depending on the results of the roadside breath test or the breathalyzer test, you might have to give up your driver's licence to the police. Your licence would then be automatically suspended for a certain period of time.

If the police suspect that you have been taking drugs

If the police suspect that you have been taking drugs, they can demand that you do physical coordination tests so that they can check whether drugs have impaired your ability to drive. They can also demand that you give them a sample of a bodily fluid for a roadside drug test.

If the police believe that you have more than the legal limit for a drug in your blood or that drugs have impaired your ability to drive, they can demand that you provide blood samples, under medical supervision, for a drug test. They can also demand that you go with them to the police station for a drug evaluation. A specially trained police officer will do a series of physical observations and tests. If the evaluation is positive, the officer can demand that you provide a sample of your saliva, urine, or blood for a drug test.

Depending on the results of the physical coordination tests, the roadside drug test, the blood test for drugs, or the drug evaluation, you might have to give up your driver's licence to the police. Your licence is automatically suspended for a period of time.

If the police want to test for alcohol or drugs

You do not have the right to speak with a lawyer before taking a roadside test. But you do have the right to speak to a lawyer before:

  • doing a breath test or a drug evaluation at the police station
  • providing a blood sample for a drug test

If you refuse a test, the police will charge you with refusing to comply with a demand that you submit to a test. Later, a court can decide whether you had a "reasonable excuse" for refusing. But it is hard to show that you had a reasonable excuse. If the court finds that you did not have a reasonable excuse, you could be given the same penalty with a greater fine than if the police had caught you driving while impaired or with more than the legal limit for alcohol or a drug in your blood.