Dealing with the Police
Kenneth W. Golish, Criminal Defence

Dealing with the Police

Please note the disclaimer that nothing in this site constitutes legal advice.  If you would like to have a consultation, please contact me.

Stopped by the Police

If you are stopped by the police, the following advice, consisting of 15 points, from the American Civil Liberties Union’s earlier Bustcard [see current version] is wise to follow:

1.           Be polite and respectful.  Never bad-mouth a police officer.

2.           Stay calm and in control of your words, body language and emotions.

3.           Don't get into an argument with the police.

4.           Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.

5.           Keep your hands where the police can see them.

6.           Don't run.  Don't touch any police officer.

7.           Don't resist even if you believe you are innocent.

8.           Don't complain on the scene or tell the police they're wrong or that you're going to file a complaint.

9.           Do not make any statements regarding the incident.

10.        Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest.

11.        Remember officers' badge & patrol card numbers.

12.        Write down everything you remember ASAP.

13.        Try to find witnesses & their names & phone numbers.

14.        If you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you seek medical attention first.

15.        If you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with

police department's internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.

If the police stop you on the street, they will probably ask you questions.  Remember, you are under no obligation to answer any questions.  Ask if you are under arrest or free to go.  If an officer says you are under arrest, ask what the charge is and tell the arresting officer you wish to remain silent and want to call a lawyer as soon as possible.  In some circumstances, the police may pat you down for weapons, even if they are not arresting you.  If you are arrested, the police will do a more complete search right on the spot.  You do not have to consent to any search of your person, car, house or other property.  You may wish to make it clear that any search is without your consent.  If the police go ahead and conduct a search anyway, do not resist or try to stop them.  Whether the police have the legal authority to make the search will have to be left for a judge to decide later. 

Remember, you can't be arrested for refusing to answer questions or refusing to consent to a search.  If however you make a scene or try to stop the police from doing anything, you might be arrested for causing a disturbance, obstructing an officer or some other breach of the peace.  Too often people don't get charged or convicted with anything the police stop them for, only to be convicted for something arising out of the involvement.  You should provide the police with your name and address only.  Never give a false name or provide false information and never carry identification that does not belong to you.  Doing any of these may be a criminal offence. 


If you are the driver of a vehicle you should always stop when signaled to do so by a police officer.  If you are the driver or owner, you must produce your license, registration and insurance.  Passengers, are not obligated to produce anything, but they probably should identify themselves.  If however something is found in the vehicle or on the driver, the police may want to search the passengers.  The police may or may not have grounds to search a vehicle, or its occupants, but if they go ahead on their own, the occupants should not resist, but should make it clear, they are not consenting to the search. 

In some circumstances, an officer may ask the driver to provide a roadside breath test.  Unless a physician has given you medical advice--you should have it in writing--that such a procedure is dangerous to your health, you must comply without delay and must comply with any demand to accompany the officer for a more formal test.  You are not entitled to consult counsel before taking a roadside test, but the rule is different when you get to the police station.  Even if you are not under the influence of alcohol, refusing to provide a breath sample may result in a conviction that has all the same consequences as a conviction for impaired driving.  Remember, the ACLU says you should always keep your hands where the police can see them.  If you are reaching into your pocket or underneath a car seat, the police might legitimately believe you are trying to conceal something or are attempting to reach for a weapon.  If you need to retrieve something, tell the police what it is and ask for permission to get it. 

The police cannot enter your home to arrest you or to conduct a search unless

1.   they have a warrant;
2.   you give them permission, or
3.   it is an emergency (exigent circumstances).

           Therefore, ask the police if they have a warrant and ask to see it.  Should the police request permission to enter your home when they do not have a warrant, they may take silence as a consent, so make your intentions clear.  You can later ask them to leave provided they don't have a warrant and they haven't a basis for arresting you.  If the police feel an emergency exists, they will enter the home anyway.  According to the Criminal Code of Canada, exigent circumstances include circumstances in which the peace officer:

(a) has reasonable grounds to suspect that entry into the dwelling-house is necessary to prevent imminent bodily harm or death to any person; or

(b) has reasonable grounds to believe that evidence relating to the commission of an indictable offence is present in the dwelling-house and that entry into the dwelling-house is necessary to prevent the imminent loss or imminent destruction of the evidence.

Keep in the mind that a disturbance in your home may be considered an emergency or the police may be justified in entering your home simply based on a 911 call. 

Although a pat down may be justified, a search warrant shouldn't be used to search parties who are merely guests in someone else's home.  However, the law on this point is not necessarily settled in Canada. 


Remain silent, call a lawyer: The police must tell you that you have a right to a lawyer and that you may reach a 24-hour free duty counsel.  They must allow you a reasonable opportunity to reach a lawyer of your choice.  This means they cannot limit you to one attempt, but you are not going to be allowed unlimited calls to the same lawyer or different ones.  Ask to call a family member or friend.  You might only be allowed one such call, so you should call the one party who can do the most for you in this situation.  If you are a minor, the police must try to contact your parent or guardian. 

If you are a national of another country, you have a right to contact a consular officer who may be of assistance.  While the police will tell you in so many words, you have a right to a lawyer, they may also be looking to get a statement from you.  Their attitude may suggest it would be to your advantage to co-operate.  Don't buy it.  The police can't keep you locked up forever.  Excepting in remote parts of the country, the police must either release you or have you before a justice of the peace within 24 hours of your arrest so that the bail process may begin.  When dealing with the police, keep in mind they have a difficult job to do.  In most cases, they are doing their work in an honest and fair way.  Know what rights are.  Just don't make a show of how much you know or make things difficult for the police or yourself.

Please note the disclaimer that nothing in this site constitutes legal advice.  If you would like to have a consultation, please contact me.