Where do the police get their powers? Where do my rights come from? Can policing rules change?

Police powers come from law and are limited by law – police do not have unlimited powers.

Legal (court) judgments and written laws, regulations, and policies do not always specify what your rights mean in every situation. They may be open to interpretation. The law (which includes court judgments) can also be changed. This means that:

  • Some questions about specific rights and situations may not have a clear answer in law. This might change in the future.
  • The police may understand the law one way, and rights advocates may understand it differently.
  • It is sometimes possible to carefully ask police questions during an encounter, or to challenge police after the interaction.
  • The law, policing rules and policies can be changed. Lawmakers and policing bodies can change, clarify, or update them as long as the laws, rules and policies comply with the Charter. Courts can interpret laws, and remove any that are unconstitutional (for example because they violate your rights).
  • The law can be improved to better protect people’s rights. This is one of the things that rights advocates fight for.

Charter rights and freedoms are guaranteed to everyone in Canada (citizens and non-citizens) (with a few small exceptions), and these rights cannot be limited by government or its agencies including police, unless the limit is reasonably necessary in a free and democratic society, and is proportional to its purpose.

Your rights also come from law – including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“the Charter”), which is part of the Canadian constitution, the supreme law of Canada. The Charter protects a number of your fundamental rights and freedoms, including specific rights related to police and criminal justice.