You have rights when you deal with the police – as well as some responsibilities. The following information describes what you should know if you have to deal with the police.
Stopped by the police
In most cases, if you are stopped and questioned by the police, you do not have to answer their questions, but it is a good idea to be polite. You do not have to tell them your name, but if the police suspect you are guilty of a crime, it is generally helpful to tell them. If you don’t, they may arrest you until they determine who you are. If you lie about your name, you can be charged with obstructing justice.
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. See below for information about being stopped when you are driving and if the police want to search you or your home.
There is no general requirement to carry identification papers or show identification to the police. However you may have to have specific documents, such as a driver’s licence when you are driving a car.
If police stop your car
When you are driving a car, you may see a police car with flashing lights behind you or driving beside you. Stop at the right side of the road. The police may stop you for many reasons. Maybe you were driving too fast. Maybe you didn’t stop at a stop sign. Maybe something is wrong with the car. Or the police officer may want to see if you are wearing a seat belt.
If the police stop you:
- Tell them your name and address
- Say whose car it is
- Show your driver’s licence, the car ownership and the insurance papers
- Don’t offer the police money – it is a serious crime to bribe a police officer
If police want to search you
The police can search you, your clothes, and anything you are carrying if they arrest you or if you give them “informed consent” to search you. Informed consent means they explain what they want to do and you agree. The police can also search you if:
- they find you in a place where they are searching for drugs and they have reason to believe that you have drugs,
- they find you in a vehicle where people are transporting or consuming alcohol illegally, and
- they have reason to believe that you have alcohol on you illegally, or
- they have reason to believe that you have an illegal weapon or one that was used to commit an offence and it might be removed or destroyed if they took the time to get a search warrant.
If the police wish to search you for any of these reasons, you do not have a choice and you should cooperate. If the police have detained you because they suspect that you are connected to a crime, they have limited powers to search you. However, they can do a protective “pat down” for safety purposes.
If you believe that you are being searched illegally or without a good reason, tell the police you object to the search and talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.
If the police want to search your home
Generally, the police do not search your house or your car without a warrant or without your permission, but there are some exceptions. If police officers knock at your door and ask to come in, you do not need to give your consent. Police can only enter your home if:
- You say the police officers can come in.
- They have a warrant (a paper from a judge that says the police can come in).
- They are chasing someone and they think that person is in your house.
- They have reason to believe that someone is in danger or think there is a serious crime happening in your house and it would be unreasonable to wait for a search warrant.
Rights while being Arrested
There are rules for the police when they arrest people. A person being arrested also has rights.
- The police officer has to say who they are and why they are arresting you.
- You don’t have to answer any questions that a police officer asks you. You can request to talk to a lawyer.
- The police officer has to let you phone a lawyer right away.
- If you want to talk to the lawyer alone, the police officer has to let you.
- Within 24 hours, the police have to take you to court or let you go.
There are different ways that a person can be arrested. The police may stop you, but not arrest you. They may let you go home if the charge against you is not serious. Later, you may receive a notice in the mail. This is called a summons. The summons will say the date and time to go to court. You must go to court.
The police may arrest you and take you to the police station and then let you go. You may have to sign a paper saying you promise to go to court. You may have to pay some money to make sure you will go to your trial. You will get the money back after you go to court.
If the police think someone is dangerous or that they will not go to court, then they can arrest you and not let you go. If the police don’t let you go, they have to take you to court within 24 hours. The judge will decide if you can go home or if you will stay in jail until the day of your trial.
If you have a complaint about the police
It is the duty of the police to protect the people in the community. In performing their duty, there are rules the police must follow. If a police officer hits you or calls you names, you can complain.
To make a complaint about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, visit the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP or phone 1-800-665-6878. To make a complaint about the police in BC, go to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and click on “Making a Complaint”.