I recently saw a meme on Facebook that said “how to talk to the police – don’t”. While the meme was meant to be humorous, it provided a piece of legal advice all criminal defence lawyers give to their clients. I receive many calls from individuals who have been arrested and are being held in cells at a detachment. In most cases, an RCMP officer is waiting to interview them, and they are calling me to ask what they should say. My answer is usually “nothing”.
Why? First, the Crown Prosecutor bears the burden of proving that someone committed a crime. As a result, an accused person does not have any obligation to provide information that will help and does not have to give a statement to the RCMP. We refer to this as the right to silence and the right against self-incrimination. These rights are codified in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms at section 7, which says all Canadians have the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
On a practical level, remaining quiet also ensures that one will not incriminate him or herself without realizing it. I have had clients who, in wishing to explain their side of the story, have inadvertently confessed to committing the alleged offence, or worse, have confessed to committing an offence they weren’t even being charged with.
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