Criminal Law

What are your rights when you are detained or arrested

By Joseph Neuberger

Whatever the circumstances, being arrested or detained by the police is stressful. Regardless of what lead to the situation that resulted in the arrest, you have certain rights that are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From understanding the difference between detainment and arrest to knowing who to contact if you are in trouble, understanding what is expected of you and what you can expect from others is critical. No one wants to find themselves facing detainment or arrest but should it happen, it is imperative that you know what to do.

Detainment vs. arrest

Being detained refers to having a police officer stop you and request that you stay, provided that they have a reason. In other words, the police must have reasonable grounds to believe that you were in some way involved in a crime for you to comply with their demands. If you have been detained, you may ask the police whether or not you are free to leave. If they respond that you are free to leave, you may go. If, however, they say that you are not free to leave, you have the right to be told why you are being detained.

Being arrested means that the police have reasonable and probable grounds to charge you. You will be taken into custody and will not have the freedom to leave. If you are unsure as to whether or not you are being arrested, ask the officer to confirm and to tell you why. Police can arrest you for several reasons including:

  • If they have a warrant for your arrest
  • For a summary offence without a warrant
  • For a minor crime without a warrant
  • For an indictable offence

What can the police do following detainment or arrest?

If you are detained, the police may engage in a protective pat-down search to ensure that you do not pose a threat. While they are allowed to use their hands to pat your body, they cannot remove anything from your pockets or bag.

Following an arrest, the police may conduct a more comprehensive search. Unlike if you are detained, police officers may search your possessions and vehicle if you are in their custody.

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