Your experience with the police here in Canada will look different than what you might see on American television shows, such as Law & Order or any other crime drama. 

In Canada, you have the right to remain silent, but unlike on television, the police can continue to ask you questions and talk with you, even after you tell them you do not want to talk with them. The magic words you hear on TV, “I want my lawyer!” do not stop the police in Canada from questioning you. The police are allowed to question you without your lawyer there and most of the time will not allow a lawyer to be with you during questioning.

When police are investigating a crime, they are allowed to use whatever lawful approaches are available to them. These tactics would often not be acceptable to most people. However, the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Oickle and R. v. Spencer has said police can use all kinds of ways to get you to speak with them. Common examples are:

  • Calling the interrogation an “interview”. Using the word “interview” sounds more innocent.
  • “I just want to get your side of the story.” Police will tell you this to get you to try to defend yourself. Even if you do not confess to a crime, the police will use any information they get from you to try to connect you to the crime. They are looking for any kind of information to help them prove you guilty.
  • Be your friend. Police will often try the “Good Cop” routine, where they claim to want to help you prove your innocence. They might even help give you a good reason to have committed the crime, such “you were only defending yourself”.
  • Blame the victim. The police might talk bad about the victim and the police do this to make it easier for you to talk about how “you were the victim.”
  • Lying to you. How much the police can lie to you depends on many different things, like the crime being investigated, and how much of a vulnerable person you might be.
  • Talk with you about something unrelated. If you show reluctance to talk, a common tactic by the police is to talk with you about something completely unrelated. For example, if you are being investigated for a break and enter into a house, the police might start talking with you about how the Calgary Flames are doing and whether you play hockey. Once they get you talking, it is hard as humans to suddenly stop talking when you have developed a friendly relationship with an officer.
  • Get mad at you. While the police are not allowed to yell and scream at you, they are allowed to question what you tell them. They are allowed to use foul language, say that you are lying to them, and they are allowed to raise their voice and be forceful with you.

Police are NOT allowed to:

  • Use any kind of violence to get you to talk.
  • Promise you anything to get you to talk with them when you would not have talked except for the promise.
  • Threaten harm to you or someone you know.
  • Question you for an excessive time or deprive you of needed sleep.
  • Keep you from using the bathroom.
  • Prevent you from drinking water or eating food.

There are many things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Only give them your name, date of birth, and address.
  • Remain silent! Do not give them any more information.
  • The police should ask you about whether you have spoken to a lawyer. If you have not spoken with a lawyer, keep asking to speak to a lawyer.
  • Tell them after speaking with your lawyer, your lawyer told you not to say anything. If you feel the need to keep talking, just keep repeating that sentence.
  • Do not answer any questions from police even if they seem unrelated to your arrest.
  • Ignore them. This may seem rude, but remember, the police officer is not your friend and they are trying to prove you are guilty of a crime.
  • Avoid eye contact. The police will try to get you to look at them because ignoring someone you are looking at can seem rude. One successful method would be to just put your head down on the table.
  • Stay calm and polite. Remember: you are not obligated to speak with the police.

After talking with the police, talk with your lawyer about what happened. Your lawyer will help you to create a plan to give information to police, if that is the right thing to do.