What Do I Have to Tell the Police if They Stop Me?

Author:Davison, Charles

In attempting to narrow the scope of this article, I have settled upon three questions which arise most frequently for many people who do not usually come into contact with the police. These questions involve the intersection of our rights as Canadian citizens to live our lives without intrusion or interference from state agencies and officers.


    It depends. It depends upon why the police are asking you to stop, and upon whether you are driving a motor vehicle, or travelling on foot.

    Canadian society is founded upon the basic principle that we are free to be left alone by the government and government officials, including the police, except as permitted under the law. In Canada, a police officer does not have the authority to randomly require an individual to stop and identify themselves or to answer police questions.

    To require compliance with a demand, a police officer must first have a legal basis for the request. If the officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person in question has committed an offence, the officer may arrest her. If arrested, the person is considered to be in the lawful custody of the officer and must remain as directed (often she will be handcuffed and placed into a police vehicle). If the officer does not have reasonable grounds to believe the person has committed a criminal offence, but is investigating an allegation along these lines, the officer may temporarily require her to remain with the officer under what has become known as "investigative detention." In both situations--arrest and investigative detention--the police are required to explain, and the citizen has the right to know, why she is being held.

    Absent one of those situations, however, the police have no right to detain people at random. Someone facing a general police demand to stop and speak with them is entitled to not comply and continue on his or her way.

    However, the situation is quite different once that same individual is behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Because driving is a privilege only (it is not a right) and because of the need for and nature of the regulation of motor vehicles and their use, the police have an almost unrestricted power to stop motor vehicles and obtain certain information from drivers. Police have the legal authority to carry out random checks to ensure vehicles are roadworthy; to check drivers for their licenses; and to ensure vehicles are properly registered and insured. And...

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