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.

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