Rights During a Detention or Arrest

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People detained or arrested by police officers are deprived of their freedom. They are restricted physically or psychologically. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives certain rights to people detained or arrested. 
If the police do not respect these rights, the evidence gathered during the detention or arrest might not be allowed in court. This article explains some of these rights.

Right to Know Reasons for the Detention or Arrest

People detained or arrested have the right to know the reasons for the detention or arrest right away.The police must explain the reasons in clear and simple language.

This information helps people detained or arrested know how serious the situation is. They can then make an informed decision about their other rights. For example, they can decide to speak to a lawyer, and can remain silent when questioned by the police.


Right to Speak to a Lawyer

The right to speak to a lawyer is a fundamental right. It allows people detained or arrested to discuss their rights and responsibilities with a lawyer. For example, they can find out what to expect after the arrest and get advice about whether to remain silent when questioned by police.

The police must let anyone detained or arrested person speak to a lawyer. Immediately after detention or arrest, the police must follow these steps: 

  • inform people detained or arrested of the right to speak to a lawyer of their choice 
  • help people find a lawyer, for example, by giving them access to a telephone or a  phone book
  • tell them that they can get help from a legal aid lawyer at no cost if needed
  • tell them about on-call lawyers who offer free telephone consultations at any time of the day or night
  • let them speak to their lawyers in private in a room where they will not be overheard
  • stop questioning them and trying to obtain information as long as they have not had a reasonable chance to talk to their lawyers 

People detained or arrested have the right to choose their lawyers. However, if the lawyer chosen is not available within a reasonable time, the police must let them talk to another lawyer. If they refuse to talk to another lawyer even if the original choice is not available, the police can continue their questioning.

People detained or arrested have the right to consult a lawyer only once. However, in some situations, they can consult a lawyer more than once. Here are some examples:

  • The police agree to another consultation with a lawyer.
  • The person does not appear to understand her or his rights
  • The circumstances have changed for the person detained or arrested, for example, she or he is being charged with a new crime, or the police are using a new method of investigation.

The right to speak to a lawyer does not include the right to have a lawyer present during police questioning. However, the lawyer can be present if everyone agrees to it.

People detained or arrested can give up the right to speak to a lawyer, but they must be fully aware of all consequences of this decision. For people with mental disabilities (also called "intellectual disabilities"), the police must also make sure they understand the consequences of giving up this right. If they waive the right to speak to a lawyer but do not fully understand what this means, evidence obtained against them might not be allowed in court.


Right to Remain Silent During a Detention or Arrest

People detained or arrested have a right to remain silent.In fact, the police must inform people of this right.

The purpose of the right to remain silent is to prevent people detained or arrested from hurting their cases by helping the police. As a general rule, when people choose to remain completely or partially silent, this cannot be interpreted as a sign that they are they are guilty. In Canada, people are presumed innocent until found guilty based on the evidence

People detained or arrested who know about and understand their right to remain silent can speak to the police if they want to. In this case, whatever they say can be used against them in court.

However, if the police do not respect the right to remain silent, the evidence they gather during a detention or arrest can't be used in court.

The same applies to evidence against people with an intellectual disability: if they waived the right to remain silent but didn't fully understand the consequences of doing this, the evidence can't be used in court.  

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.