What are my rights if the police card me?

What are your rights when police stop you for identification on the street?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has a right against arbitrary detainment—but exercising that right when you are actually interacting with an officer can be challenging.

We're not lawyers, and we can't provide legal advice; but consider these tips from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Citizen’s Guide:

Avoid escalating the situation

Police have the power to detain you, arrest you, or subject you to physical violence, and learning later that they overstepped their authority won’t be much comfort if you are injured or jailed. Stay calm and do your best to interact with officers politely.

Know when you can walk away and when you can’t

If an officer stops you while you are operating a vehicle, including a bicycle, they have the right to detain you and to ask for your identification.

If you’re on foot, officers only have the right to detain you if they witness you committing a crime or reasonably suspect that you were involved in a crime. Ask “am I free to leave?” at any point if you would like to leave. If they say no, ask “why not?”

Officers may ask you for your name, your address, and to see your ID. If you weren’t operating a vehicle and you aren’t being detained, you don’t have to provide this information. Never provide a false name or false address—this could get you arrested for obstructing the police. If you were operating a vehicle, you do have to comply—officers may arrest you if you refuse.

You do have the right to ask for the name and badge number of officers that you interact with, and you do have the right to record yourself, or anyone else, interacting with the police as long as you are not obstructing the officers’ work.

Know what you can do afterwards

If you feel that an officer treated you inappropriately, you can make a complaint in two ways: by going to the station to make a complaint to the police chief, or by contacting one of the police complaint directors working for the Alberta Solicitor General.

Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act guarantees you the right to be provided all police records containing your personal information. This process is generally free, though you may have to pay a modest photocopying fee if your file is particularly large. You must make a written request; you can get the forms by visiting your local police station.

Further reading

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Citizen’s Guide, the source for these recommendations, has more details about how to deal with being detained, your rights if you’re stopped while driving, and what you can do if police want to search you.

If need to make complaints or appeals after interacting with police, this flowchart from the Alberta Solicitor General’s office outlines your options.