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There is no absolute right to silence in Canada. For example, if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident in Ontario, you may be required to provide details to the investigating officer. If you are charged for professional misconduct, you may be required to provide a statement to your governing body. (In that event, you should consider whether criminal charges are pending.)

The right to silence is most closely associated with criminal law. Even in that context, the right is not absolute. If you are arrested and charged with a criminal offence (and hope to be released), you would have to provide a name, an address and other personal details. However, you would not be required to discuss the incident itself.

But that’s not the end of this story. In Canada, if you’re arrested and held in custody by police, you can (and should) assert your right to silence. However, the police can ignore that assertion. Don’t be fooled by U.S. television, where the right to silence is different. In Canada, even if you say, “I wish to remain silent”, the police can continue to question you. The key is persistence. You can (and must) continue to assert your desire to remain silent, even if the police ignore you. They can’t force you to talk (at least not legally), but they have tricks that are designed to loosen your tongue. Police interrogation techniques are so clever and so carefully disguised that it is impossible to discuss the right to silence in a few paragraphs or even in a 5-minute telephone conversation. Advice on right to silence requires a detailed, case-specific discussion, and is often crucial to your defence. When arrested or detained by police, always ask to speak to a lawyer. That is another important right that you have. (Again, not an absolute right.)