Police misconduct is an unfortunately common occurrence in Canada. Torstar recently conducted an investigative report into the problem and found more than 600 serious breaches of civilians’ Charter Rights and Freedoms over the past five years – averaging around two per week.
Fortunately, the courts are taking action to rectify this problem – resulting in better outcomes for the victims of such mistreatment.
What rights do civilians have in police interactions?
News stories about police brutality and racial bias in Canada can make it seem as though civilians are at the mercy of law enforcement. However, everyone is this country is protected by a core set of rights – known as the Charter Rights and Freedoms. In the context of engagement with the police, this Charter protects us from such things as:
- Cruel or unusual punishment
- Unreasonable search or seizure
- Being arrested without being immediately informed of the reason
- Being arrested without being promptly given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer
What happens when these rights are breached?
The Torstar report found an alarming trend that in almost all cases where judges found that police had breached a civilian’s Charter rights, the officer – and their department – were never even informed. Thus, the problem persisted.
Since these findings have been released, police departments across the country are working to rectify this issue and hold officers accountable for their actions.
In addition, police misconduct has the possibility of helping the outcome of your case. If a police officer improperly mishandles evidence in your case, for example, your lawyer could work to invalidate that evidence and have it removed from trial.
The Department of Justice also recognizes that when the police act outside of the confines of the law, it reduces public trust in the justice system. There have been a growing number of cases in recent years where judges have reduced charges – or thrown out a case entirely – where police misconduct was involved.
If you’re arrested, it’s important to ask to speak to your criminal defence lawyer right away. Be sure to talk to your lawyer about any interactions with the police that didn’t seem right to you. They may be able to use this to nullify the case against you.