Talking to the Police
|This page is used in the Talking to the Police Lesson Module, a law-related ESL lesson for newcomers to Canada.|
Criminal laws make it illegal for someone to hurt or steal from other people. People who are accused of breaking the criminal law are taken to court by the government. This section explains the role of the police in investigating crimes, and what to do when you are talking to the police.
- 1 The role of police
- 2 Preventing crime
- 3 Going to court
- 4 Being accused of a crime
- 5 Help for victims and witnesses
The role of police
A police officer's duty is to protect the people in the community. In Canada, the police have to obey the law. If you believe a police officer is not obeying the rules of their role you can make a complaint.
Making a complaint about the police
British Columbia has two separate agencies that accept complaints about the police.
Most of rural BC, and some municipalities, are policed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). For complaints about the RCMP, call 1-800-665-6878 or visit the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.
Many municipalities in BC are policed by their own police force — the Vancouver Police Department is an example of a municipal force. The Police Complaints Commissioner of BC accepts complaints relating to municipal police forces.
What to do if the police stop your car
The police may stop you for many reasons. For example you may have been driving too fast, talking on your phone or not wearing a seat belt. If a police car is behind or beside you with their lights flashing they may want to talk to you. Pull your car over to the right side of the road and stop.
If you are stopped by the police, the officer will ask you several questions including:
- what is your name and address,
- whose car it is, and
- produce your driver's licence and vehicle insurance papers.
Never offer the police money. It is a serious crime to bribe a police officer.
Police at your house
Police officers can knock at your door and ask to come in. The police officers can come into a house if they:
- have a warrant,
- think that someone they are looking for is in your house,
- suspect there is a serious crime happening in the house, or
- are invited in.
What if you see a crime happening
If you see a crime happening, call the police right away. Wait for the police officers to come. The police will come and want to talk to witnesses.
Witnesses are very important to Canadian law. If a witness doesn’t talk to the police, the police may not be able to arrest the criminal. The criminal might go free, and there would be more crime. If people see a crime happening, it is their duty to talk to the police.
What if a crime happens to you?
The following story will help you understand what to do if a crime happens to you.
- A man robbed Ying Yee’s store last night. He came in with a gun and took all her money. After the robber left, Ying Yee phoned the police. Two police officers came to the store. They asked for her name, address, and phone number. They asked what had happened. Then they asked her to write down everything that the robber said and did. It was difficult for her to write this in English, so she wrote it in Chinese. The police got it translated later.
- The police arrested a man. The police thought he was the man who robbed Ying Yee’s store. But the man said he did not do it. The police did not see him rob the store. Only Ying Yee saw the man who robbed the store. The police asked her to come to the police station. At the police station, she looked at pictures of some men. All the men looked similar, but one was the man who robbed her. She was sure. She told the police that he was the robber.
Going to court
A witness in court
The victim and the witnesses to a crime may have to give evidence in court. Giving evidence means telling the court what you saw.
- Ying Yee was the victim of a crime. She got a letter called a subpoena. It said the police were taking the man they arrested to court. The letter said Ying Yee had to identify him in court and give evidence. The letter said what day she had to go to court.
- Before the court date, Ying Yee went to a meeting at the court building. The Crown counsel, also referred to as a government lawyer, and an interpreter were there.
- The Crown counsel explained to her what she would have to do and emphasized she must tell the truth and if she didn’t know the answer to a question, she should say that she didn’t know.
- On the court day, Ying Yee went to court and waited outside the courtroom. When her name was called, she went into the courtroom. The clerk asked her to make a legal promise that everything she said in court would be true.
- Ying Yee had to answer a lot of questions. An interpreter helped her. The Crown counsel asked questions first and then the defence lawyer asked Ying Yee some more questions.
- The judge listened to Ying Yee’s answers. Then the judge made a decision. He said the man was guilty and had to go to jail.
Innocent until proven guilty
In Canada, people who are accused of breaking the law are innocent until proven guilty. This means that, by law, they are innocent until a judge or jury decides in court that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Crown counsel has to show that the accused person broke the law. Another lawyer defends the accused person. The judge or jury listens to both lawyers and then makes a decision. Sometimes, the judge or jury cannot be quite sure. Then the judge will let the accused person go.
Being accused of a crime
There are rules for the police when they are arresting someone. The police officer must say who he or she is and why he or she is arresting the person. The police officer also has to let the person phone a lawyer right away.
A person being arrested also has rights. The person has a right to talk to the lawyer. The police must take the person to court within 24 hours or let him or her go.
Going to court
If you are arrested you will receive a notice to go to court, where you will be charged for breaking the law. You will either have to plead guilty, meaning you agree that you broke the law, or not guilty, meaning you don’t agree that you broke the law. You should talk to a lawyer before you decide what to do.
Canada has different rules for young people who break the law. Youth attend youth court. For more information about youth and the law, read the section Young People and the Law in the Learning about the Law Wikibook from the People’s Law School, or their booklet Consequences of a Youth Record, available at www.publiclegaled.bc.ca.
Help for victims and witnesses
Sometimes a victim of a crime needs help. There are people in most communities called victim support workers who can help you if you have witnessed a crime and you have to go to court. They can explain what will happen and what you have to do. They may also go with you to court. To connect with a victim services workers contact VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808 or www.victimlinkbc.ca.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2014.|
|Talking to the Police © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.|
A person with direct, personal knowledge of facts and events relevant to the issues before the court; a person giving oral evidence in court on oath or affirmation as to the truth of the evidence given. See "affirm," "evidence," "oath" and "opinion evidence."
Facts, or proof tending to support the existence of facts, presented to a judge at a hearing or trial. Evidence can be given through the oral testimony of witnesses, in writing as business records and other documents, or in the form of physical objects. Evidence must be admissible according to the rules of court and the rules of evidence. See "circumstantial evidence," "hearsay" and "testimony."
A legal document, issued by the court or by a party pursuant to the rules of court, which compels a person to attend court to give evidence as a witness, and, sometimes, to produce a specific document. Failure to obey a subpoena may constitute contempt of court. See "contempt of court," "evidence" and "witness."
In law, (1) the federal and provincial governments and their departments and agencies, or (2) lawyers employed by the federal and provincial governments to prosecute criminal offences.
(1) A lawyer, or (2) the advice given by a lawyer to their client.
A person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction by that jurisdiction's law society. See "barrister and solicitor."
(1) A reply, a rebuttal, an answer to a court proceeding or an application, or (2) a statement as to why a particular claim or application should not succeed.
A person appointed by the federal or provincial government to manage and decide court proceedings in an impartial manner, independent of influence by the parties, the government, or agents of the government. The decisions of a judge are binding upon the parties to the proceeding, subject to appeal.
In law, (1) a judge's conclusions after hearing argument and considering the evidence presented at a trial or an application, (2) a judgment, or (3) the judge's reasons. A judge's written or oral decision will include the judge's conclusions about the relief or remedies claimed as well as their findings of fact and conclusions of law. A written decision is called the judge’s "reasons for judgment." See "common law," "conclusions of law" and "findings of fact."
In law, in British Columbia a person under the age of 19.