All You Need to Know About Police & Arrest
Know Your Civil Rights



There are generally 3 reasons why a police officer would stop you on the street:

1. The police officer wants to make a conversation (example: they can ask how your day is, they can ask about an incident you witnessed, etc.).

2. The police officer is investigating you if there is a probable cause (Example: if you are connected to a crime).

3. The police officer is arresting you (You will know if you get arrested because a police officer legally has to tell you that you are being arrested. If you get arrested, you have to tell the police your name and address).

In all circumstances, you have the right to ask the officer why you are being arrested/investigated/approached and the officer must tell you, unless the situation is obvious (Example: if the crime is visible).

Just Remember,

You always have the right to remain silent! Although, staying silent can create suspicion and escalate the situation as a lot of instances can end with discussion.

If you get arrested, the arresting officer may release you right away with an appearance notice – a paper that states when and where your court date is. An appearance notice will only be present if the office believes that you are no danger to society and that you would not break any laws until your court date. If you are believed to be a danger, the officer may do a full search of you and your personal property (car, house, etc.), or take you to jail. If you are taken to jail, you have the right to appear before a Judge or Justice of the Peace as soon as reasonably possible.

During an arrest, police officers are only allowed to use as much force as necessary to arrest you. So remember, if you do not use resist the arrest (kick, scream, hit), the officer is not allowed to use force on you. If the officer uses excessive (unreasonable) force, you can make a complaint or file a lawsuit.

Just Remember,

Keep anything that could be used as evidence! For example, take pictures of the bruises, see a doctor, or seek a witness. 


Police officers must have a reason for arresting you. The law states that a police officer can only arrest you under the following circumstances:

1. An officer sees you committing a crime.

2. An officer has a probable cause to believe you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime (For example: if you behave dangerously on the street, or if the officer smells drugs).

3.  If you break any provincial or city bylaws.

4. If you refuse to tell an officer your name or your address.

5.  If a police officer believes that you have a mental disorder and are a danger to society.

6.  If you breach the “peace”.

7.  If you are drunk or high in public.

8.  If the officer believes that you are a terrorist or about to commit terror.


Definition: a warrant is a piece of paper signed by a Judge to allow an officer to do something (Example: arrest you or search your property).

If you are being arrested with a warrant, you have the right to see the piece of paper. The officer will usually carry it with them, but with rare circumstances, if they do not have the warrant, they can still arrest you and show you as soon as possible after your arrest.

Things to look for on your warrant:

1. Your name or appearance description.

2.  A reason for why you are being arrested.

3.  An order for arrest.

4. A signature from a judge.


1. Mental Health Issues: An officer can use force to take you to a hospital if they think that you are acing in a way that is dangerous to yourself and to others. This law is under the Mental Health Act, and is applied when an officer sees you acting in a dangerous manner or when a family member/friend reports your dangerous behavior. You can also be taken to a mental health institution under this Act when a family member asks a Judge or Justice of the Peace to force you to be examined by a doctor. Under any of these circumstances, you always have the right to challenge the reasons on why you are being held by asking for a review panel.

A review panel is a group of 3 individuals who have the power the release you if you can convince them otherwise. During this time, you always have the right to be represented by a lawyer.

Important Note

Please call the B.C Mental Health Law Program at 604.685.3425 to know more about your rights in front of a mental health review panel.

2. Breach of the Peace: Under Section 31 of the Criminal code, a police officer has the power to arrest you for breaching the peace. Breaching the peace means you are causing a disturbance that can potentially lead to a form of violence. Although, an officer has the right to arrest you without you showing any signs of violence.

Important Note

 If an officer decides to arrest you for breaching the peace, he/she must release you after they arrest you unless they are going to charge you for breaking an additional law. Additionally, an officer can arrest you if they think you are about to breach the peace. This law is under the B.C Court of Appeal, and states that officers can arrest you even if you haven’t yet breached the peace.

If you feel like you have been treated unfairly or arrested inappropriately, you always have the right to consult a lawyer or make an official police complaint.

3.  Public Intoxication: If you are in a public area and you are intoxicated, an officer can arrest you under the Offence Act. Intoxication means that you are drunk or high to the point where you can no longer care for yourself, you cause danger to yourself or others, or you are disturbing the peace. If you get arrested while being intoxicated, the police officer must release you when you are sober or release you if an adult claims responsibility of your care. Remember: an officer can force you into treatment if they believe you are an addict or an alcoholic. Although, this law is only used under extreme circumstances. 


It is always important to act responsibility when talking to a police officer. Even though, under the law, you do not always have to provide identification, it is always important to comply with an officer’s request to see identification.

Under the law, you only have to give an identification (your name and address) to an officer under these 3 conditions:

1. You are under arrest.

2. You are driving a vehicle.

3. An officer gives you a ticket for breaking a city bylaw or any other law, or is serving you an appearance notice.


Citizens whom are not police officers have the right to arrest another person if they witness them commit an indictable or hybrid crime, or if they see them running away from police officers. On the other hand, you cannot arrest someone under reasonable grounds – only police officers have the right to do so.


Police officers have the right to ask for a search, such as “can I look into your bag?”. You have the right to say “no” and police cannot legally threaten you or force you to comply to a search. The only time a police officer can search you or your property is when:

1. They have reasonable grounds to believe that you are carrying illegal substances/weapons.

2. They have detained you to ask you questions.

3. They have arrested you. Once you get arrested, the police can do a full search of your body and personal possessions.

Your rights to a search change as soon as you enter a vehicle. When you are driving, police can stop you for many additional reasons. For example, police can stop your car to check if you are impaired. On the other hand, if you are walking, police need to have reasonable doubt or evidence that you are intoxicated.

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Police can only search your vehicle if:

1. You give them permission to do so.

2. The police have reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed a criminal offense.

3. You are arrested.

4. They see something sitting in your car, such as alcohol bottles (can be empty), rolling papers, or if they can smell illegal substances.

You can find more information on vehicle searches on CRIMCODE 129 and 270.  

Important Note

If an officer pulls you over for suspecting impaired driving, it is extremely illegal to refuse to blow into a breathalyzer. If you do not blow into the machine when asked to do so, you can be charged with an additional crime that is just as serious as 'blowing past the limit' (impaired driving).


Police cannot search your house, apartment, hotel room, or trailer without a search warrant. Police can only search your home without a warrant under 5 circumstances:

1.  You give them permission to search.

2.  They are chasing a person who has run into your home.

3.  When someone is in immediate danger (for example, when you call 9-1-1).

4. When police have reasonable grounds to believe that you are committing a crime in your home, such as destroying evidence.

5. When you or someone else is being arrested inside your home, and they need to secure the house.

Just remember,

 Warrants always expire right after the search, and you do not need to be home for the search.

If you believe that your property is being searched under illegal circumstances, do not resist the police. Act responsibility! Acting responsibility means not physically resisting officers, saying “I do not consent for this search”, recording badge numbers, and calling a lawyer for assistance.


After you have been arrested, the police can search your clothing, bags or car for objects and substances you could use to harm yourself and/or others. They can also look for anything else to charge you with. If you have been arrested and the police do not think that you are in any danger to you or to others, they can let you go with an appearance notice. If they believe that you are a danger to yourself and to others, they will take you to police holding cells to wait to go to court. You can also be taken to the courthouse jail cells, or the remand centre. Your property will be taken either before or after you arrive at the holding cells. You will be asked to sign a list of everything the police have taken from you. If the list is incorrect, do not sign it.

The police do not have the right to strip search you. They will always need a warrant in order to search under your clothes.

Under severe circumstances, if you are taken to a remand centre, you may have to change into a prison uniform. Corrections officials may perform a strip search if you will be in contact with other prisoners. Strip down searches always have to be performed with same sex officials.

You always have the right to a lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, or if you did not have the chance to call one, you will be provided with a duty counsel – a lawyer who will explain to the judge what you would like to do.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to receive legal aid. In order to qualify for legal aid, you must have:

1.  A problem that is covered by legal aid.

2.  Low income.

3.  No other way to get help.


1.  If you are an activist, you must be prepared to accept the consequences of breaking the law in order to create public awareness. Activists often face Mischief charges in conjunction with protests. Police sometimes enact the “riot act”, which requires people to clear the streets within half an hour.

2.  Activists often get charged with breaching the peace.


After 9/11, the Federal government brought in “anti-terrorist” laws that can significantly affect your rights. These laws can be found under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Public Safety Act. These laws are only intended to be used under emergency circumstances.

According to the Anti-Terrorism Act, there are two ways to be considered a terrorist:

1. If you commit a terrorist act.

2. If you are a member or supporter of a group that is included on the government’s list of terrorist groups.


Panhandling: Asking for money on the street is not illegal under the Canadian Law. Certain cities may modify these rules.

In Vancouver, you cannot do the following:

1. Ask for money when you are in a group of 3 or more.

2. Lie or sit on the sidewalk and ask for change.

3.  Ask the person more than once for change.

4. Ask people in cars for change.

5. Ask for change within 5 meters of a bank, payphone, bus stop, public toilet, etc.

6. Follow people after asking them for change.

Loitering: Loitering is “hanging out” in a specific place without having reason to be there. It is a legal offence if you block or slow down pedestrians or cars.

Sleeping in Public: It is a public offence to sleep in parks during the night.


This information has been provided by David Eby's Arrest Handbook: A guide to Your Rights. To learn more about David Eby and his work, please click the button bellow.