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What are my rights at a roadblock in Canada?

What are my rights at a roadblock in Canada?

Road Block Surrey

Whether it’s a long weekend, the holidays, as part of some CounterAttack program or just because police feel like it, police roadblocks are a reality nearly all Canadian drivers are familiar with. In the vast majority of cases, motorists will pull up, show the officer their driver’s licence and insurance, and if there are no infractions detected the motorist is free to drive away.

Charged after being stopped at a roadblock? Give us a call. 604-685-8889.

But often, police will probe a lot further than simply asking for your licence and insurance papers. The most common one many drivers will have heard is a question to determine whether the driver is sober, something to the effect of, “have you had anything to drink tonight?”

Other times, however, police may ask more intrusive questions – or appear to be giving orders to the driver altogether. What do you have in the car? How much have you had to drink? Can you open your trunk? Show me what’s in your bag. Open up your glove compartment. Step outside your car and turn out your pockets.

As you can imagine, most of these questions are likely well-intentioned. Officers may be looking for illegal contraband, weapons, stolen goods or perhaps they’re just curious and wanted to know why there’s a big hockey bag in the backseat.

 

So do you have to listen to police orders at a roadblock?

The first thing to remember is your right to silence. The Motor Vehicle Act only requires you to state your name and address, and the same of the owner of the vehicle. While police may place you under arrest and then undertake a search of the vehicle related to the arrest, you do not have to say anything.

…often, police will probe a lot further than simply asking for your licence and insurance papers.

Similarly, if police have not arrested you and are simply asking you questions, or even making demands, you do not have to respond other than by providing your driver’s licence and insurance information. While police have the right to stop your vehicle, the right to peek inside through the windows and the right to ask questions, you also have the right to remain silent, and the right to contact a lawyer immediately.

Police are not all-powerful at a roadblock. It has been well-established by the Supreme Court of Canada that unless police are attempting to stop a crime-in-progress, the power of law enforcement is actually quite limited at a roadblock.

It’s because roadblocks are actually considered by the courts to be a form of arbitrary detention, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms s. 9 specifically protects the public from being arbitrary detained and imprisoned.

In fact, all roadblocks are in contravention of the Charter. This Charter breach is something actually acknowledged by the Supreme Court, but the courts also provide an exemption to the Charter for roadblocks, as long as certain criteria are met.

In one of Canada’s leading cases on the matter, R v. Mellenthin, the Supreme Court determined that, unless there are further reasonable and probable grounds to suspect a crime, officers at roadblocks should only check for:

  • sobriety
  • licences
  • ownership
  • insurance
  • mechanical fitness of cars

 

What if police become suspicious at a roadblock, but otherwise have no proof of crimes?

This is the most common reason why a roadblock stop might escalate into something more. Say a police officer notices your hand noticeably shaking when you hand over the driver’s licence. Or perhaps when you’re looking for your insurance, police think they see something suspicious in your glove box, but are not sure what it is.

Or even more commonly, police think they smell something such as drugs, usually marijuana.

The legality of these cases is less clear, and often police will simply go ahead and pursue their investigation and worry about the consequences later. This means that a driver may well have his or her rights violated by police following improper procedures, but the officers’ actions will not be challenged until the case is properly tested in court.

In many cases, where officers have made mistakes are from improperly setting up roadblocks with the intention of catching all crimes.

In one case out of Saskatchewan, police even brought the canine unit to sniff for drugs or other contraband, which the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan later determined was an unacceptable use of roadblocks. In the case, police stopped a driver and noticed a seatbelt violation and also a strange smell in the vehicle masked by air freshener.

The mistake was when police decided that was enough reason to continue investigating, and were even prepared to charge the driver with obstruction if he didn’t co-operate. Here’s where the court determined police made mistakes:

  • requiring him to stop to search for illicit drugs
  • questioning beyond road safety concerns
  • compelling the driver to pull over for an extensive vehicle search
  • further questioning after bringing the vehicle to the search area
  • requiring the driver to exit the vehicle

 

The driver, who was initially charged with marijuana trafficking, had the charge against him successfully dismissed.

 

What happens when a driver avoids or flees a roadblock?

Avoiding or fleeing a roadblock is not a good idea. Obviously, if you were already aware of a roadblock on a specific street and chose not to drive on that street, you have done nothing wrong. But if you are already approaching a roadblock and decide to make sudden manoeuvres to avoid having to stop, police will likely give chase.

Officers at roadblocks routinely keep their vehicle engines running to pursue drivers who attempt to run through or avoid roadblocks. When this happens, at the very least, the driver can be charged with Motor Vehicle violations such as failing to stop for police, all the way to Criminal Code violations such as dangerous driving, or even criminal negligence.

The best thing to do when confronted with a roadblock is not to flee or avoid it. Instead, understand that police powers at roadblocks are limited. And regardless of what officers tell you at the scene of the roadblock, when cases are tested, chances are many officers will find their knowledge of the law is insufficient or incorrect.

Know your rights at the roadblock. You are required to present a valid driver’s licence and your insurance documents at the roadblock, and officers are allowed to primarily seek for road safety violations. Anything beyond that and you may just have a defensible case.

Charged after being stopped at a roadblock? Give us a call. 604-685-8889.

What are my rights at a roadblock in Canada? was last modified: by

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1 Comment

  • Ken mawdsley
    Reply December 4, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Another obligation the dicks will smack you with us to state name and address which some moron in the past decided should be required by the BC motor vehicle act.

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