Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut June 14, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Legal Ease, June 14

You have the right to remain silent


In general, you do not have to answer questions put to you by anyone.

You have the right to remain silent.

That doesn’t mean that you cannot be required to provide a licence while driving or evidence that you are allowed to, for example, operate a restaurant.

What it does mean is that you do not have to answer police questioning.

Now, if you are detained you will be given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer.

The lawyer will doubtless tell you to say nothing. The standard legal advice is to remain silent.

That’s almost always good advice. Sometimes the only case against an accused will be what they admitted to in police questioning. So staying silent is a good idea.

But it’s hard to follow.

You will want to explain and say what happened.

But in general, it’s better not to explain. You must never lie. It’s best to say nothing.

Police are not required to stop asking you questions just because you say you want to remain silent. They can keep asking you questions. And your answers can be used against you later.

Questioning cannot be violent—the police won’t hit you—but they can ask questions for many hours.

Police can say things that make you want to explain. They can talk about God and Jesus. They can play recordings of your family. They can tell you to “be a man.” That’s all perfectly proper investigation technique.

But it is best if you say nothing at all.

Your best approach is to say firmly “I am not saying anything” and then fold your arms, close your eyes and pay no further attention to the questions. This isn’t easy and may seem rude, but it is for the best.

You will get a chance to tell your story later in court.

James Morton is a lawyer practising in Nunavut with offices in Iqaluit. The comments here are intended as general legal information and not as specific legal advice.

Email this story to a friend... Print this page... Bookmark and Share Comment on this story...

(7) Comments:

#1. Posted by Snow Snake on June 14, 2018

Pretty hard to remain silent especially when there are no lawyers in community, although they can be reached by telephone but still our communities lack many things including…

#2. Posted by The Old Trapper on June 14, 2018

Excellent advice, too often ignored by the majority of people questioned by police. Tell the RCMP that you want to talk to a lawyer, then say nothing.

This advice cannot get you into any trouble, it is your right to say nothing.

#3. Posted by Victim on June 15, 2018

Advise them to be decent humans and come clean to the police immediately if they actually did do it instead of forcing their victims to have to go to court and wait years for closure. Helps the person who committed the crime to move on and make changes too. What’s in the best interests of someone who commits a crime isn’t always avoiding a conviction and jail time.

#4. Posted by Im with #3 on June 15, 2018

#3 has made an excellent point. What ever happened to be concerned about determining the truth? And to say police questioning can be “violent” - seriously? only a person who works hard to get even those who they know commit crime get off the hook and still can sleep at night would make such a statement…

#5. Posted by Johnston on June 15, 2018

A difficult situation to find yourself in. Difficult to wait for hours, sometimes days, to connect with an attorney. All while dealing with aggressive questioning from police. Yes, police questioning can be violent. Remember not all suspects or accused are guilty!

We imagine that only criminals or people of disrepute are questioned, and therefore their treatment in trying to ascertain the truth does not matter but that is simply not true. Anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and yes, even criminals deserve fair procedure and diligence.

It would be fine if we could rely on the RCMP and Crown to be fair when a person is immediately accountable and assisting with investigations. But even in cases where the accused immediately confesses and assists with investigations, shows remorse, the whole gambit, Crown can still press aggressive charges and refuse a joint sentencing submission that recognizes the agreeability of the accused.

#6. Posted by I tried on June 15, 2018

I tried to remain silent when I was arrested. I was arrested for possession and trafficking. During questioning by RCMP, the officer stops recording the questioning and tells me that if I don’t answer his questions it will look bad to the jury and I’ll get convicted. The officer resumes recording the questioning and I start talking. At trial there is no jury. In summer of 2014 I was convicted and sentenced to 6 months and served 29 days. BCC staff wanted me out so fast to make room for real criminals. I was never a drug dealer! James, is it too late to appeal my conviction? Another thing is I can’t get a firearms license because of this bogus conviction. I’m a hunter and need new rifles…

#7. Posted by Yes you have a point #3 & #4 on June 15, 2018

...but police can definitely be violent. Psychopaths and sociopaths can blend into anywhere.

I once was brought in for questioning by an officer reeking of alcohol when I was a teenager. The hatred in his eyes is unforgettable even though I was innocent. Turns out it was a case of mistaken identity since I had the same jacket as the suspect. The officer with a drinking problem never apologized.

Right to remain silent is very good to exercise even if you’re innocent.

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?