Many people have an inaccurate view of the Canadian legal system based on what is depicted on TV and in movies. Not only are the events in these programs often highly dramatized, but they are also often set in the United States, meaning even if they were an accurate representation of the American legal system, they still wouldn’t be for Canada.
While these programs can be a great source of entertainment, they can also be damaging and leave people unprepared for what may occur if they are charged with a criminal offence.
Luckily, we’re here to dispel some of the common myths about the Canadian legal system.
Myth #1: I Don’t Need a Lawyer
It is your right to have legal counsel, and it is always a good idea to take advantage of this right. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, one of the first things you should do is hire a Toronto criminal defence lawyer.
Hiring a criminal lawyer is your only way to achieve the most favourable outcome possible. You should also never assume that you will be able to make your way through without someone who understands the ins and outs of the legal system and your specific case.
Even if you think there is no chance of winning your case, talk to a lawyer. If you are found to be guilty, they can help you obtain a lesser sentence than you would get otherwise.
Do not speak to the police or confess to anything until you have first spoken to your lawyer. In Canada, you have the right to speak to your lawyer before being questioned; however, unlike how we see in the movies, your lawyer is not allowed to be present during police questioning.
Myth #2: I Wasn’t Read My Rights So I Can’t Be Questioned
If you’ve seen any popular legal or crime show, you’re sure to have heard people being read their Miranda Rights. As someone is being handcuffed or guided into the backseat of a cop car, we hear, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.”
Miranda Rights, however, are an American custom and don’t exist in Canada.
Instead, in Canada, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This charter states that you do have the right to know the reason for which you are being detained. Police are also required to tell you that you have the right to a lawyer and that legal aid and free legal advice are available to you if needed.
If police are not arresting you and are just asking questions to gather information, they do not have to read you your rights. You, however, do have the right to decline to answer those questions.
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Myth #3: Police Must Have a Warrant to Arrest Me
For the most part, it is true that police need an arrest warrant in Canada to enter and search someone’s home for evidence or to arrest someone they believe to be inside. They do not, however, need a warrant to arrest someone in general.
Warrants are often only issues if the law enforcement officers need help arresting someone.
There are different types of arrest warrants, each with its own specifications and rules. If you have a warrant out for your arrest, contact a criminal lawyer to find out what it means for you and how you should go about it.
Myth #4: I Have to Answer Everything Asked of Me
Although the Miranda Rights aren’t a thing in Canada, the first statement, you have the right to remain silent, does hold.
Having the right to remain silent means that even if you are asked a question directly, you do not have to answer it. Especially if you have yet to speak to your lawyer, you should take advantage of this right because anything you do say can be used against you once your case is taken to trial. It’s important to understand the impact of any and everything you say.
While some people may assume that staying silent will make it seem like they have something to hide, your silence does not in any way provide evidence of your guilt. It is, however, considered a crime to lie to a police officer, so it is often better to stay silent.
However, there are some things that are in your best interest to comply with, one of those being taking a breathalyzer. Refusing a breathalyzer in Ontario, while not illegal, can result in a criminal offence charge.
Myth #5: Things Move Quickly in the Legal System
In TV shows especially, things move very quickly in the legal system so everything can wrap up by the end of the 30- to 60-minute program. In real life, however, things move at a much slower pace.
Once you’ve been arrested, there is often a waiting time between your first court appearance, where you can plead innocent or guilty, and your trial. From there, it can take months to years for your sentencing to conclude.
There are several ways your trial could end, including prison time, government-mandated community service, probation, or complete freedom. It is very important to understand the details of your sentencing fully. For example, if you are given probation but down the line have a breach of probation in Ontario, it may result in prison time or another criminal charge.
Myth #6: A Clean Record Will Ensure Lighter Sentencing
In the Criminal Code of Canada, sentencing is explained to be “proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.”
If you are a repeated offender, it may be true that you will receive increased penalties for subsequent offences than someone who committed the same crime as you but who has no record. However, having a clean record does not mean that you will receive lighter sentencing for a crime.