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Information on Public Order for Demonstrators

What are my rights in a protest situation?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees certain rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.
Section 2 of the Charter states:  

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

  • Freedom of conscience and religion;
  • Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  • Freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  • Freedom of association

The RCMP recognizes the importance of these freedoms and of all other protections in the Charter.

Are there limits?

The rights and freedoms contained in the Charter are not limitless. The Supreme Court has recognized that “freedom of expression does not extend to protect threats of violence or acts of violence. It would not protect the destruction of property, assaults, or other clearly unlawful conduct.”

In addition, other reasonable limits will apply in some protest situations. Section 1 of the Charter, which provides for limitations on rights and freedoms, states:

  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it, subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The Criminal Code of Canada contains various provisions that limit individuals’ rights. The following is a list of some of the relevant Criminal Code sections that limit certain activities:

  • Blocking or obstructing a highway (Section 423(1)(g))
  • Causing a disturbance (Section 175)
  • Common nuisance (Section 180)
  • Interfering with transportation facilities (Section 248)
  • Mischief (Section 430)
  • Offensive volatile substance (Section 178)
  • Suppression of Riots (Sections 32, 33,)
  • Unlawful assemblies and Riots (Section 63,64, 65, 67, 68, 69)
  • Breach of the peace (Section 31)
  • Assault (Section 266)
  • Assault of a police officer (Section 270)
  • Using a mask or disguise with intent to commit an indictable offence (Section 351(2))

Breach of peace: An arrest for breach of the peace, whether under the Criminal Code or the common law, does not result in a charge. The purpose of an arrest for breach of peace is to end the breach and restore order.

There are other Criminal Code sections that may also apply to protest situations. In addition to the Criminal Code, limitations on activities that may be contemplated in protest situations are also contained in provincial statutes, such as provincial or territorial highway traffic laws, and in municipal by‑laws.

Injunctions

Persons who violate injunctions may be prosecuted for civil or criminal contempt. If the evidence indicates that the matter goes beyond civil contempt, the provincial or federal government may decide to pursue criminal contempt charges.  In either case the police may become involved in enforcing a civil order.

Duties of Police - What duties do police have during demonstrations?

Police officers have a sworn duty to preserve the peace, prevent offences, enforce the law, gather evidence, protect property, preserve life and protect against serious injury, among other duties.

These duties have their basis in common law and statutes, including provincial or territorial highway traffic laws and the Criminal Code of Canada.

The RCMP remains committed to ensuring that Charter guaranteed rights and freedoms are upheld, while ensuring that police officers carry out their sworn duties while promoting and developing strategies for the resolution of disorder that minimize the need for use of force by police. Police will assist in creating safe places for lawful advocacy, protest and dissent.

The RCMP recommends demonstrators familiarize themselves with their legal rights and responsibilities to ensure their actions are within the boundaries of the law.

The RCMP will promote an approach to protests that seeks to understand and respect cultural elements in the tactics deployed to resolve conflict. 

Division Liaison Teams

Division Liaison Teams (DLT) members will assist in providing specialized support and expertise in establishing and maintaining open and transparent pre-event, event, and post-event lines of communication with all stakeholders to facilitate prevention and/or resolution of disorder. 

DLT members are an essential part of building relationships of trust, respect, and mutual understanding between the police and all stakeholders in a protest event.