Every Canadian is entitled to the benefit of a number of constitutionally protected civil rights. Criminal law constantly engages the struggle between the rights of the individual versus the interest of society as a whole in preventing crime.

Whether you have been charged with an offence or not, it is important that you be aware of your rights, particularly when it comes to interaction with law enforcement. Of fundamental importance to the criminal process is the right to remain silent and the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay. If you are charged with an offence, or being investigated by police, you should consult with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible for advice on how to proceed.

I. You have the right to remain silent.

This means that while the police have a right to ask questions, you are under no legal obligation to answer. Until you have spoken to your lawyer, the only thing you must tell the police is your name, address and date of birth.

II. You have the right, upon arrest or detention, to retain and instruct counsel without delay.

If you talk to the police, then they will almost always be able to use what you say as evidence against you. But, if you say, “I want to talk to my lawyer,” then the police are legally bound to stop asking you questions. The police must then provide you with a reasonable chance to contact your lawyer. (You are not restricted to one phone call—this is Canada!) If you do not have a lawyer, then the police will have an obligation to provide you with a 1-800 number for Ontario “Legal Aid.” They have lawyers on staff 24 hours a day. After you speak with a lawyer, the police can continue to ask you questions. Your right to remain silent will be unchanged. Sometimes the police are only interested in speaking with you as a witness. In those cases, you may choose to speak to the police, but you are under no legal obligation to do so.

III. You have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The police and the prosecution bear the burden in law of proving the charge against you beyond a reasonable doubt. You are guilty only if you plead guilty, or are found guilty after a trial. Generally speaking, you should not try to prove your innocence to the investigating police officer.