Under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every person has certain rights before the law that cannot be impinged on by law enforcement without due cause.

Understanding these rights, and knowing what information you are and are not obliged to provide law enforcement, is an important aspect of civic responsibility, and can help you avoid getting caught up in criminal investigations.

Unfortunately, many Canadians are not fully aware of their legal rights. Do you have to identify yourself to the police in Canada, for example? What happens if a police officer approaches you with questions? This is of special concern for Canadians from racialized groups — and Black Canadians in particular — who are consistently over-represented in police actions.

This article will explore two key questions related to these Charter rights: under what circumstances are you required to identify yourself to an officer, and what information should you provide when speaking to the police?

What are Police Allowed to Ask for Your Identification?

According to Canadian law, the police have the right to stop any pedestrian who they have seen commit a crime or who they suspect of having committed a crime.

If you have been stopped, however, you are under no legal obligation to identify yourself or answer any questions — and unless you are detained or arrested, the police cannot keep you from continuing on your way. You can find this out simply by asking whether you are free to go: police are not allowed to detain or arrest you without telling you why.

That being said, there are complicating factors that all citizens should take into account:

  • Police in Canada have the power to arrest you without a warrant should they believe you have been involved in an offence or are about to commit one.
  • If police believe there is a warrant out for your arrest, they can arrest you for failing to identifying yourself (if you are dealing with a warrant for arrest in Canada then getting in touch with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible is essential).

Furthermore, it is important to note that these circumstances only apply to people travelling on foot. If you are operating a motor vehicle, police can legally stop you for any reason and ask for your license and vehicle registration, regardless of whether or not they believe you have committed a crime. Refusing to provide this information can lead to your arrest.

In the event that you are being questioned following an accident, you are required to answer any questions related to the accident that an officer puts to you.

If you are suspected of driving under the influence (DUI), police can ask you to take a breathalyzer test. You are allowed to refuse, but doing so can lead to your arrest. If you blow above .08, you will be charged with a DUI and will want to get in touch with a criminal lawyer who specializes in DUI in Toronto before your bail hearing.

Cyclists may be stopped if they are seen committing offence, and will be required to provide their name and address. They can be arrested if they fail to comply.

How Should I Interact with the Police?

The police are empowered to use their discretion in many cases, and if you respond to being stopped by an officer with rudeness or intransigence, this can be used as grounds to detain or arrest you, and as evidence against you in court.

For this reason, it is always a good idea to be respectful with the police. One of the advantages of knowing what is and is not required of you is that it can help you stay firm and confident in your interactions with law enforcement without offering any information you aren’t required to provide.

If police believe you have been involved in a crime, they will likely charge you with an offense, in which case they have the obligation to inform you of your right to a lawyer, and give you an opportunity to do so before further questioning.

If they do not inform you of this right, it is important that you refuse to provide further information until you have spoken with a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto as the information the police gather at this time can be used against you in court.

Regardless of what kind of offense you have been charged with, a criminal lawyer is essential if you want to navigate the legal system effectively and mount the best possible defence. For example, in the event police have detained you illegally or in any other way violated your rights, your Toronto criminal defence lawyer may be able to use this to have the charges dropped.

Police are given a great deal of power, but Canadian law puts prudent limits on what officers of the law can and cannot do in the process of discharging their duties. The answer to the question “do you have to identify yourself to the police in Canada” depends on the circumstances, and every Canadian should know their rights and respectfully insist that the police do not infringe on them.

Unfortunately, it is no secret that many Torontonians do not trust the police to perform their duties in a non-discriminatory way. But the first step for Torontonians from racialized minorities — and indeed for Torontonians from any racial or ethnic background — to protect themselves against unlawful stops is to have a robust understanding of their legal rights.

Regardless of whether or not you have actually committed a crime, speaking to a Toronto criminal defence lawyer before giving the police with information you are not legally required to provide is the best way to make sure your rights are recognized.

With decades of legal experience and thousands of cases won, Jeff Reisman Law can provide you with the advice you need to interact with the police should you be involved in an investigation or charged with a crime, so if you need a skilled criminal defence lawyer Toronto, call Jeff Reisman today.