Anti-terrorism law expands police powers

There are many controversial parts to the federal Combating Terrorism Act that came into effect earlier this year. One of these is the power to detain someone to prevent a terrorist activity.

This month's On the Radar looks at some of the laws that apply when the police decide to stop people on the street and question them.

Can the police stop and question someone?

The police can approach someone and ask them questions but they must let them go on their way, unless they arrest them or have grounds (valid reasons) to detain them. For example, if the police are investigating a crime and they have a reasonable suspicion that a person is connected to the crime, they could prevent that person from continuing on their way.

In most cases, people don't have to answer questions, but it is a good idea to be polite. They can tell the police that they don't want to say anything until they speak to a lawyer.

Can the police arrest someone to prevent a terrorist activity?

Yes, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that to prevent the terrorist activity they need to arrest someone or have certain conditions put on them.

If a judge then finds that the police have reasonable grounds for their suspicion, the judge can order the person to agree to certain conditions. For example, the judge might tell the person that they must agree not to possess guns or explosives. If the person doesn't agree, they could be held in jail for up to a year.

What if someone is detained or arrested and doesn't want to answer questions?

The police should stop their questioning as soon as the person asks for a lawyer. It's enough to say, "I want to speak to a lawyer." If the police continue to ask questions, the person doesn't have to say anything. They should just ask again to speak to their lawyer.

What if someone doesn't have a lawyer?

Legal Aid Ontario pays lawyers known as "duty counsel" to give free legal advice, 24 hours a day. People can ask the police for the toll-free telephone number for duty counsel.

In most cases, a lawyer will advise the person not to talk to the police. This is usually the best advice.

If someone chooses to talk to the police, they should keep in mind that giving false information can be a crime. And if they lie to the police, this might be used as evidence against them.

Can the police continue to ask questions after someone speaks to a lawyer?

Yes. Even if the person says that they don't want to answer, the police can continue to ask questions.

But people have the right to remain silent and don't have to say anything.

What rights does someone have if they are arrested or detained?

The police must:
  • tell the person why they've been arrested or detained,
  • tell them immediately that they have the right to a lawyer,
  • tell them about Legal Aid Ontario and their right to free legal advice, and
  • let them speak to a lawyer, in private, as soon as possible, if they ask to do this.
People who are younger than 18 have the right to contact and have a parent or guardian with them when the police question them.

The police can search someone they have arrested:
  • to protect their own safety,
  • to find evidence of the crime for which they arrested the person, or
  • if the person gives "informed consent" to be searched.

To get legal help

Contact Legal Aid Ontario.

Contact the Law Society Referral Service for a free half-hour with a lawyer.

Visit the website of the Criminal Lawyers Association for a list of criminal lawyers.

This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.
November 2013

On the Radar is a monthly email alert from CLEO that highlights timely legal information.

Related CLEO resource:

Police Powers: Stops and Searches


Other resources:

Talking to the police (Justice for Children and Youth)
Know Your Rights video (

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