4 min

If police stop you

Be polite, but you have rights

BUTTONING UP YOUR PANTS? Police have a right to briefly detain you-if you look like you've just committed a crime. But you don't have to do more than identify yourself without a lawyer present. Credit: Lee Lyons

The bad old days of police harassment of our community are not over yet. Men are being stopped and questioned in Surrey’s Bear Creek Park. Two weeks ago, a Hamilton bathhouse was raided. In 2002, Goliath’s bathhouse was raided in Calgary.

If police stop you and ask personal questions or to see your identification, you have rights.

Unless you are under arrest or being detained, you do not have to answer questions. And police need a legally valid reason to arrest or detain you. For example, if they stop you in a park, police need some evidence that you’re actually committing a crime-like actually viewing you having sex-before they can detain you and ask questions. And even then, you have the right to speak to a lawyer before answering-though it’s a good idea in most circumstances to at least identify who you are.

There is, mind you, a gray area in the law-police can also very briefly detain you if they don’t see you break a law but consider your actions to be suspicious in a suspicious setting (zipping up in a park, for example). It’s called an “investigatory detention.” Police can do a simple pat-down search for safety reasons. In any case, whether arrested or briefly detained for investigatory purposes, you are entitled to ask if you are under arrest and then declare that you choose not to answer questions.

Of course, says Murray Mollard, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, you should remain polite. After all, “police can, intentionally or not, take advantage of the authority of their badge and uniform.”

So, how would Mollard handle an interaction where police demanded to see his ID?

“If I was stopped by police, I would want to know why. If they’re not planning to place you under arrest, which should be clear pretty quickly, you have no obligation to answer.”

Mollard would-politely-tell the officer: “Look, I don’t believe I have any legal obligation to provide answers to you. I’d like to know what your legal authority is? Are you arresting or detaining me? Why?”

If you are arrested, Mollard says, it’s best to identify yourself and then call a lawyer before saying anything else.

The not-for-profit Pivot Society distributes cards to marginalized people in Vancouver-the sex trade workers, and illegal drug users that are often the focus of disproportionate police attention. The “Legal Rights Card” suggests wording in the event you are stopped by police and asked to provide information.

“Officer, if I am under arrest or being detained, please tell me so,” reads the card. “If I am free to go, please tell me so. If I am under arrest, please tell me why. I want to exercise all my legal rights including my right to silence and my right to speak to a lawyer before I say anything to you. Until I speak to a lawyer, I will not willingly cooperate with any request you make, unless you command me and explain to me why. Thank you for respecting my rights.”

In the event police do arrest you, Pivot suggests you use common sense. “Stay calm, quiet, and try to remember everything that happens. If you are in a bar or a cinema or police say you broke the law, give your name, address, and birthdate. If driving, show your licence. Then do not say anything until you talk to a lawyer. If they command you to do something, politely ask why, and then do it silently. Call a lawyer as soon as you can.”

There is risk in asserting your rights, Mollard notes. By asserting your rights, you risk being taken to jail. But by being cooperative and compliant, you may get a simple warning or a chat with police. Police abuse is not accepted by the criminal justice system. If police abuse you after you assert your rights, Mollard says the BC Civil Liberties Association can help people file an official complaint against police.



I can refuse to talk to the police or answer their questions.

I can insist on my right to speak with a lawyer as quickly as possible. (Even if you don’t personally have a lawyer, you have an absolute and inviolable right to call duty counsel and get legal advice. Police are required to dial the number for you once you are at the station.)

I can ask a police officer to tell me his name or badge number.

Before the police search my house, my car, my belongings or my body, I can insist that they show me a search warrant, or explain clearly why they are searching me and what they are looking for.

I can insist that I be searched by someone of the same sex.

I can leave unless I am being arrested or detained.

Source: Pivot Legal Society



If you are arrested on sex charges, there are four things to remember:

You have no obligation to answer questions-beyond identifying yourself: place of birth, date of birth, citizenship, address and employment. Don’t answer questions related to the arrest or the investigation. Do not lie. You may be searched, including an anal search in Vancouver. Call a lawyer.

If you are arrested as a “found-in” in a bathhouse, cooperate by accurately sharing ID with police, and then quietly await your release. If a police officer is treating you badly, note badge number, name, police car ID numbers, and the licence plate numbers of police cars and cars belonging to witnesses. Call a lawyer.

On most sex charges, you can expect to be let go within hours-if you have no criminal record and are not out on bail. But on a minor charge, you might be able to avoid the police station entirely. For example, if police catch you giving a blowjob in a public place and claim you committed an indecent act. If you pull out your wallet, ID yourself and say you’ll go home directly, you could avoid arrest. Saying you’ll not repeat the “offence” means you should just get a summons. You’re still charged with a criminal offence, but you avoid the police station and the formal nastiness. Call a lawyer.

If you are taken in, you have an absolute and inviolable right to call duty counsel and get legal advice. Say: “I want to call duty counsel.” Police are required to dial it for you.

-Eleanor Brown