Rules authorities can still ask questions after right to remain silent invoked

The right to silence in Canada is not an absolute rule that requires police to stop interrogating people who have no wish to speak with investigators, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.


In a 5-4 decision yesterday, the court refused to treat the right to silence, as guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in the same manner as the “Miranda” rule so deeply ingrained in the United States, where police must cease questioning anyone who asserts a desire to say nothing.


“What the common law recognizes is the individual’s right to remain silent,” said Justice Louise Charron, who wrote the majority decision. “This does not mean, however, that a person has the right not to be spoken to by state authorities.”


William Trudell, chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, calls the ruling “an extraordinary and regressive decision for a Canadian court.”


The court was sharply divided over an appeal by Jagrup Singh, who asserted his wish to remain silent no fewer than eighteen times while under interrogation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2002 in connection with a shooting that killed an innocent bystander at a bar in Surrey, British Columbia.

His questioner, Corp. David Attew, admitted his objective was to get a confession “no matter what.”

Singh eventually admitted being in the bar and identified himself in a photograph, incriminating revelations in a case where no forensic evidence linked him to the crime. He was convicted of murder in 2003. Singh argued his statements were obtained in violation of his right to silence under Section 7 of the Charter and asked the court to adopt a rule that would require police, unless they have a signed waiver, to refrain from questioning any person who invokes that right.

But imposing such a rigid requirement would ignore the state’s important interest in solving crime and goes well beyond provisions in the Charter, Charron said.

split decision

  • In a dissenting opinion, Justice Morris Fish accused the majority of treating constitutional rights as “constitutional placebos.”