In Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (the “Act”) governs criminal offences for drug possession and trafficking. The legislation contains schedules of substances that the Act applies to, with the severity of penalties varying depending on whether the offence relates to a schedule I, II, III or IV substance, how much of the substance is in issue, and other factors.
Being charged with illegally possessing or trafficking a controlled substance can carry serious consequences. In some cases, minimum sentences apply, and some offences carry sentences up to a life term in prison.
As such, it is important to be aware of your rights and obligations at law in the event you are detained or arrested in connection to a drug offence. The Act outlines the procedures to be followed by police with respect to obtaining search warrants and collection evidence in drug offence cases. As in all criminal cases, your rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) must also be respected if you are detained or arrested.
Steps to Take
One of your first considerations should be to make sure you understand if you are being arrested. If you are under arrest, you have a right to know the reason and what charges are being laid against you.
It is usually best to wait to speak to legal counsel before speaking with police. While you should be calm and courteous, being cooperative does not require you to say anything whatsoever. A lawyer can help you decide what information you should give to the police, and if your charges proceed to trial, whether you ought to testify. Note: Remaining silent does not include misleading the police, and lying to the police can result in being charged with obstruction of justice. Complying with the police’s requests in no way infers your guilt.
Make notes when you can to record the series of events surrounding your arrest, including what the police officer said to you and what actions he or she took. This information can help a lawyer determine whether your arrest was made lawfully.
Consult with a lawyer and retain one so you can be completely honest with him or her about what happened. By law, your lawyer is required to keep all the information you provide confidential. Your lawyer will help you decide what information to provide the police, if any. It is always the Crown’s burden to tender sufficient evidence that you have committed the crime alleged, beyond a reasonable doubt.
How to & How Not to Conduct Yourself
If you treat the police with courtesy and respect and seek assistance from a lawyer, you will have your best chance of minimizing a potential sentence, having your charges withdrawn, or negotiating a conditional discharge. If you are hostile and uncooperative with the police, however, you may have more difficulty achieving a favourable outcome in your case.
In R v. Ahrens, 2009 ABPC 266 (CanLII), the accused was charged with possession of crystal meth, resisting arrest, and breaching his probation. The accused fled the police in his vehicle and, because of this behavior, he received no sympathy from the court, who accepted the Crown’s arguments with respect to sentencing and rejected the defence’s plea for a lower sentence. The case serves as a stern reminder that failing to cooperate with the police may lead to the charge of resisting arrest, in addition to any drug-related charges already being laid. Further, poor behaviour itself may cast negative light on the character of the accused when it comes to sentencing with respect to any of the alleged offences.
Your Rights Upon Arrest or Detention
You have the right to be given reasons for your arrest, under Section 10(a) of the Charter. If ever you are arrested without being told why, request the reason.
You have the right to be given adequate time to seek and retain a lawyer, under section 10(b) of the Charter. The police are required to remind you of this right at the time of your arrest and remind you that anything you tell them can be used against you in court. Do not feel that you must tell the police any information whatsoever until you have retained a lawyer. You are also entitled to be given access to a telephone to make calls, and any directories that will help you search for lawyers’ contact information.
The Act legislates certain procedures that must be followed by police when conducting searches in relation to drug offences, which are additional to the Charter right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. As above, ensure that you take notes surrounding the police’s conduct if they have searched your person or property. Your criminal lawyer may find these useful in assessing whether a Charter argument can be made in your defence.
In a widely-publicized Supreme Court decision of R. v. Harrison,  2 SCR 494, 2009 SCC 34 (CanLII), a criminal conviction for trafficking involving 35 kilograms of cocaine was overturned on the basis that the accused’s right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure had been breached. There was clear evidence that the accused had committed the offence. However, the police’s conduct in searching the vehicle without reasonable grounds to do so was such a flagrant breach of the accused’s rights that the Supreme Court of Canada found that it would put the administration of justice into disrepute if the conviction was upheld. The accused’s lawyers highlighted to the court why the Charter breach was significant enough to overturn the conviction, despite the severity of the offence.
Contact Banks, Gubbins & Andrews Criminal Law for a Drug Offence Lawyer in Grande Prairie
If you have been charged with a drug-related offence, call our lawyers at 780-830-0322 in confidence to discuss your options. We offer criminal defence representation in Grand Prairie and surrounding areas.