Nunatsiaq News
COMMENTARY: Nunavut September 26, 2017 - 1:10 pm

Legal Ease, Sept. 26

Am I free to go? Your rights on the street

JAMES MORTON

You are out for a walk or on the land and an RCMP officer asks to speak to you.

Almost always, the officer has a legitimate good reason to speak to you and most of the time it’s a good civic action to answer questions and help the RCMP with their inquiries.

There may be a missing elder or someone has been doing break and enters and your assistance might help a lot.

That said, you do not have to speak to the RCMP and if they suspect you of a crime it’s almost always better to say nothing. And that is your right.

You never have to answer police questions and if you think that you are under suspicion, you can say “I don’t think I’ll be answering any questions.”

You also do not have to remain talking to the RCMP officer unless you are legally detained. You are free to walk away. The best idea is to ask “am I free to go?” If the answer is yes, then you can just leave.

If the answer is “no you are not free to go” you can properly ask “what am I being held for.” You should always be polite and show respect to the RCMP, but if you are not free to go, you have some very specific rights.

If the police hold you, that amounts to being detained under the constitution. Detained includes being arrested but also includes any situation where you are being held by the RCMP and you cannot freely leave.

If you are detained, the law requires that the RCMP tell you why you are being detained, and requires them to let you speak to a lawyer in private as soon possible. 

If you are detained, you are under no obligation to say anything to the police, you do not have to answer any of their questions; you are free to say absolutely nothing to the police.

Now just because you don’t have to answer, there is no requirement that the police stop asking. If you are arrested, the police are allowed to question you even if you say you are not answering questions. It’s difficult to remain silent in such a case, but you are allowed to say nothing. 

As mentioned, you are entitled to speak to a lawyer for free if you are arrested and I strongly urge anyone arrested to speak with a lawyer to get specific help.

You have many rights as a Canadian and you should not be afraid to rely on them. 

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

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