You have the right to remain silent but police don’t have to tell you

The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that police don’t have to tell you about your right to remain silent.

image: Stephen Gustitis

This is only true if you have not been arrested -which is a critical point in your conversation with police.

If you’ve watched enough cop shows, you’ve probably heard the phrase:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.”

If it’s an American show you’re watching, the above warning is called the Miranda rights after a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said failure to read accused person their rights violates the United States Constitution.

It took Canada a little while to catch up but after the Brydges case in 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled something similar. Failure to read Canadian suspect their rights constituted a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But your rights don’t have to be read if you are not under arrest. If you are just having a conversation with police, no warning need be given.

A booklet published by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association outlines how a friendly conversation with police can lead to an arrest.

If you’re like me, you cooperate with police. As a former teacher, I often found myself policing my students as much as teaching them so I automatically identify with police.

A friendly conversation with the police could involve an incident that they are investigating. If they don’t alert you to the right to remain silent, something you say could implicate you with the incident.

Suddenly you have slipped from being cooperative to being a suspect under arrest.

Because they don’t have to, police will not stop you from singing like a canary. For them to say: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court,” would get your radar up. To keep the conversation flowing, it’s to the police’s advantage not to warn you of your right to remain silent.

“If you don’t like the questions the police are asking, ask: ‘Am I free to go?’ If the answer is yes, you can leave. If the answer is no, you are being detained,” says the BCCLA handbook.

In the recent Supreme Court decision, an Alberta man was not told of his rights during a 105-minute voluntary interview. He came in voluntarily and cooperated with the investigation of the shooting of a friend. He was not a suspect.

The interview gradually turned adversarial. Police asked him to prove he did not commit the murder.

What? They might as well asked him where he hid the body.

His statements proved important in the circumstantial case against him and he was convicted.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Alberta man’s conviction would stand despite the slippery slope he fell down in the absence of warning.

Bottom line: when talking to the police, be polite but say as little as possible.


Homoeopathy debate re-ignited

Questions about the practice of homoeopathy have been re-ignited by two recent events. One has to do with a homeopathic rabid-dog-saliva treatment and the other about the retrial of a couple originally found guilty of failing to provide for the necessities of life.

Samuel Hahnemann   image:


If you thought that dog spit was an effective treatment because Health Canada approved it, you would be wrong. Health Canada approved rabid dog saliva and 8,500 other homeopathic remedies, not because they are effective but because they have concluded that they are safe. Health Canada doesn’t test these remedies for efficacy.

Other homeopathic treatments are made from cancerous cells, black mould and the smallpox virus; they sound dangerous until you realize just how much they have been diluted.

The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, devised a dilution system that he called “C scale.” Homeopathy claims that the more remedies are diluted, the more effective they are. A 6C dilution will result in the original substance being diluted to one part in a million million. Kamloops’ tap water has a million times more naturally occurring fluorides than such remedies.

No wonder Heath Canada has deemed homeopathic remedies to be safe. They are purer than the water we drink. So, why go to all that trouble to make pure water?  The difference between pure water and homoeopathic pure water, homeopaths claim, is that the later contains a “memory” of the original substance even when it is diluted virtually out of existence.

A Vancouver Island naturopath got into trouble when she provided a remedy containing (or not containing, depending on the dilution) rabid-dog saliva. Anke Zimmermann, gave a child lyssin because he demonstrated behavioural issues after a dog bite. The problem, according to Health Canada, had nothing to do with the fact that it contained rabid-dog saliva: five others had been approved. The problem was this one, lyssin, which is made in Britain and not approved.

People can imagine whatever they want, but if they think they are taking medicines when they are drinking pure water, that’s a worry. B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, wrote Health Canada expressing her concerns.

“I believe all of these products that are purportedly based on infectious or dangerous material should not be classified as ‘medicines’ and should not be regulated as health products (Globe and Mail, May 13, 2018),” Dr. Henry said in an e-mail.

Professor Bernie Garrett at the University of British Columbia’s nursing school says:

“It’s absurd that these homeopathic remedies should be licensed for use when technically, they’re nothing more than water because of the dilution process. But they still cause harm by delaying access to effective treatment and by causing people to lose money.”

David Stephan and his wife, Collet, were found guilty in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life for 19-month-old Ezekiel. They treated him with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than take him to a doctor. Ezekiel’s body was so stiff from meningitis that he couldn’t sit in his car seat. She took him to naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge on a mattress where she bought an echinacea mixture. Ezekiel died later.

The Supreme Court allowed a new trial based on a technicality. The couple appealed the original decision and lost. But because appeal court’s ruling wasn’t unanimous, the couple had an automatic right to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Michael Kruse, executive director of Bad Science Watch, is blunt in his assessment of homeopathy:

“These self-regulated professions are based on magical thinking, and until provincial governments take responsibility to be the arbiter of what is scientific and what is not, the doors are open for any profession with a training program and standard of practice to make potentially deadly claims.”


Phone privacy left unresolved

It’s too bad the court case of the FBI versus Apple didn’t proceed. If it had, the issue of whether phone companies must aid police by releasing private information might be resolved.

FBI new app

The case won’t go to court because the FBI says that they don’t need the cooperation of Apple because they can hack into the phone after all. That presents another problem: if the FBI can hack into anyone’s phone, they should pass on the vulnerability to Apple so it can be fixed.

I’m not a defender of corporations but I was pleased when Apple’s Tim Cook stood up to the FBI. The FBI had obtained a court order requiring Apple to bypass the security lock on an iPhone belonging to a shooter in the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

“The founding fathers would be appalled,” said a righteous Tim Cook. That’s perhaps a little more dramatic than I would have put it but I agree with the sentiment. Phone providers hold our security in their hands. There is an implied, if not explicit, contract between phone companies and customers that privacy should not be breached except in an imminent threat.

Unlike the high-profile FBI case, there was barely a whisper when a similar case occurred in Canada in 2013. That’s when rumours of a video surfaced showing former mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Police requested a search warrant for a phone belonging to Ford’s driver and it was granted.

When investigators discovered that the driver’s phone was locked with a password, they went back to the court for an “assistance order,” similar to the one in the U.S., that would require Apple to provide assistance in bypassing the password. And without a fuss, Apple did.

Both cases leave the privacy of phone users unresolved; in the Canadian case because the judge didn’t give reasons for his decision and in the U.S. case because it never went to trial.

The Canadian judge was following a trend common in the Dark Decade when invasion of privacy was virtually government policy. The federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner found that in 2014, police made 1.2 million requests to phone companies according to CBC.

Thankfully, things have changed in Canada when the Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a search warrant before phone companies hand over personal information. Before the ruling, Police would approach companies with computer IP addresses that were linked to criminal activity or were suspicious, and receive the name, address or phone number of the person associated with that computer address.

The RCMP now hope that the Liberal government will write laws that will allow them access to private information without a warrant. “Kids could be exposed to the hands of a predator longer, before we’re able to intervene,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Joe Oliver, told Global News.

While everyone wants to protect our kids, the police have a habit of collecting much more information than is necessary. That makes us vulnerable to mistakes. It would allow police to go on fishing expeditions: to gather search history, record of dissent and other personal facts and to store that information without anyone ever knowing about it.