YOU HAVE RIGHTS!
At any kind of public political demonstration, you may have to deal with the police,
especially if there's a large number of protesters and direct action is taking place. The job of the
police is to protect corporations, governments and their property. To do their job
properly, police may be required to arrest people and disperse crowds. The police may also try to
gather information or evidence of crimes committed by protesters to undermine the
movement's credibility and to damage the movement's effectiveness as a political voice.
This section spells out the rights you have as a political activist and ways to protect yourself
against police brutality and other abuses of power. This information is based on Canadian law,
but the "Links" section has legal information in other parts of the world.
Visit it when you're done here. The laws that apply in Quebec City don't necessarily apply in Qatar or Genoa.
Show Me Your ID!
You don't have to show the police your identification or tell them who you are. Canadian Law doesn't even require you to carry your ID papers with you. Protesters are advised not to bring their ID to the protest. It makes it difficult for the police to find any information that could be used against you. On top of that, you'll probably never see your ID again after the cops take it from you. But with most laws and rules, there are exceptions. If you are arrested by the police, then you have to tell them who you are. If you're driving a motor vehicle, you need your driver's license and vehicle registration, which you must present to the police if they ask you for it. If you are under 18 and the police find you in a bar, then you'll have to show your ID. Some municipalities have by-laws that require you to show ID if you are found at night in a public place (i.e. park, street, etc.). If you refuse, you could be charged with vagrancy.
Unless you absolutely positively have to talk to the cops, don't do it. Be aware that
anything you say to the police can be used against you and your fellow activists. The police will
try to talk to you, but you can act like they don't exist or simply walk away. Remember to act
peacefully since any provocation of the cops will only cause more trouble for you. If the police
demand you stop and talk to them, ask if you are under arrest. If you are not under arrest, calmly
but firmly tell the officers that you do not have to do as they say. You have the right to keep your
identity a secret from the police, but the police are required to identify themselves. The rules that
cops live by say they must wear badges with their names and ID numbers clearly visible. Don't
hesitate to ask the officers for their identification.
If you are arrested, the police must tell you what you are being charged with and what rights you have. Most protesters are charged with minor offences like mischief or disturbing the peace. The main goal of the police is to remove as many protesters from the scene as possible to suppress the voice of dissent. The vast majority of arrested protesters get released a few days later.
If the police have followed their own rules of making a legal arrest, you have no choice but to go with them. Resisting arrest, acting violently or failing to keep your mouth shut can lead to more charges piled on top of you, so be careful what you do or say. An arrest may not result in immediate transport to jail. The police officer may give you an appearance notice or other documents that say you must appear in court on a specific date or time. You may also get a summons in the mail. Should you decide to not show up in court, the authorities will issue a warrant for your arrest.
When you are under arrest, you must provide your full name, address and date of birth.
Beyond that, you do not have to say a single word, except for "I have the right to remain silent
and I want to speak to a lawyer." Do not say anything until you have spoken to a lawyer in
private. The police, of course, will try to get you to spill your guts. They are professionals in the
art of interrogation and will use every trick they know to get you to reveal the activities of your
friends and use that information against them. Police methods range from being nice to you and
promising special treatment to forms of intimidation and threats meant to scare you into
submission. The most extreme thing the police may do to you is beat you. When you are in
custody, try to be aware of your surroundings and the people you come in contact with. This
means trying to memorize ID numbers and physical descriptions of police officers. This
knowledge may help you later if you are the victim of severe intimidation and police brutality.
Report police brutality to your lawyer immediately. Seek medical attention and a full medical
report that includes photographs of your injuries if possible.
Police officers have the right to search you for weapons or evidence relating to the charge after you have been arrested. The police do not have the right to search you before you are legally arrested unless you clearly agree to the search. The police must have a reasonable suspicion that you are carrying weapons, drugs or evidence, but this is open to their interpretation of the rules and does lead to illegal searches. Write down or memorize the officers' names and badge numbers. This information makes filing complaints or lawsuits against the police easier. After arrest, you can only be searched by a police officer of the same sex. Female activists can and must insist on being searched by a female police officer. Female protesters who were arrested in Seattle, Washington and Quebec City, to name a few, have reported sexual abuse by males police officers. There are two kinds of searches. In summary searches, you keep your clothes on and the contents of your pockets and your personal effects are examined. In strip searches, you must completely undress and your clothes and personal effects are examined. Try to identify the abusing officer(s) as soon as possible so you can file a complaint.
Protect yourself at the demo!
These are some important things you should know about surviving the demo when the police are out in force. The cops will be looking for any excuse to make arrests, so be careful what you do.
You can wear a mask to protect your identity and to protect yourself from teargas and pepper spray, but masks can attract the attention of the police. Wearing a mask or disguise can be considered as a specific criminal charge called "with the intent to commit a crime."
The police use various means to identify protesters, so protesters should do the same to the police. Notepads and pens should be on hand to take detailed notes of arrests, use of crowd dispersal weapons (i.e. teargas and rubber bullets), police brutality, police ID numbers, names of arrested protesters and witnesses. Take the information you've gathered to human rights organizations, legal observers or sympathetic legal representatives. Cameras, video cameras and tape recorders can make reports of arrests and police violence much more powerful, and may in fact prevent police violence. The police, like most human beings, don't like being caught doing something illegal. The presence of a video camera may keep them in line. Make sure you have enough film or videotapes on you, but be aware your equipment could be confiscated by the police. Bring some large self addressed stamped envelopes to drop the tapes, film or notes into, and drop the sealed envelope into the nearest mailbox. If you are uncomfortable with your own address, mail the tapes and notes to the demo organizing committee, legal collective or another sympathetic person or group.
You should not bring any drugs or weapons that will give the police a really good excuse to arrest you. Your ID should be limited to a driver's licence and birth certificate. Leave all sensitive information like address books at home. Be aware the police are looking for any sensitive information that may be used against you and your friends. One final warning: don't touch cops. They don't seem to like being touched and you could be arrested for assault. Go figure.