Dealing with the Police

By the Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière

An excerpt from “Guess What: We’ve Got Rights?!” Also available in french.

cw: police brutality, prison industrial complex, law enforcement, criminal justice system

We have to rely on ourselves to know our rights and ensure that they are respected. The police systematically abuse their power, particularly when confronting marginalized individuals: the poor, youth, and anyone questioning authority. The information below is based on Canadian laws as well as on rules and regulations applying to police forces in Québec.

Identifying Yourself

Your identity is your own. You are under no obligation to identify yourself to a police officer except in the following cases:

  • if you are under arrest
  • if you are driving a motor vehicle, you must show your driver’s licence as well as the vehicle’s registration (remember: passengers do not have to identify themselves)
  • if you are found at night in a public place (park, street, etc). According to some municipal by-laws, people who refuse to identify themselves can be charged with vagrancy
  • if you take the metro and use a reduced rate pass: in this case, police and metro security may only ask you for your “Privilege” card to ensure that you have the right to the reduced rate.

Other than these exceptions, you are never obliged to speak to the police. If cops call out to you, you can pretend you don’t hear them and peacefully continue on your way. If the police insist and ask you to identify yourself or to come with them, ask them: “Am I under arrest?” If you are not, you must firmly but calmly tell them that you don’t have to and/or will not identify yourself and/or follow them.

The police have to identify themselves. According to their own code of conduct, the police are required to identify themselves and/or wear badges with their names and ID numbers on them.


Depending on the type of demo or action, it might be a good idea not to speak about it on the phone or any place where you might be overheard.

Protecting your identity
The identification division of the Montréal Police “accompanies” demos, rallies, etc., with the sole purpose of identifying demonstrators, activists, organizers, and speakers. You can choose to wear a mask or a disguise in order to protect your identity. Wearing a mask will attract the attention of police, especially of undercover cops, as well as of the media. Being masked or disguised “with the intent to commit a crime” is a specific criminal offence. A disguise might also frighten some demonstrators.

What to bring

  • Pen and paper: these are handy to take detailed notes of any incident that might occur during the event. For example, if there are arrests: the names of the people arrested, their phone numbers, friends to contact, details of the arrest, actions of the police, identification numbers of the police cars, descriptions of the police, and, if possible, their names and badge numbers, as well as the names and phone numbers of anyone who witnessed the arrests.
  • Camera and video cameras: you can photograph the license plates of all undercover cop cars, take pictures of the police, those who might be police or suspected provocateurs, and photograph any incident (arrests, police brutality, etc.)
  • Tape recorder: a tape recording of cop’s remarks and statement is a valu-
    able addition to photos and videotapes.

What not to bring
Leave your address book or any other documents that may contain sensitive information at home. Don’t bring any illegal drugs or anything that cops might consider to be a weapon. Choose beforehand which ID you’ll bring, and leave the rest.

Before going to a demo, ask yourself: am I wearing shoes that are good for running? Does the colour of my clothes make me easy to identify? Can I be easily grabbed by the hair? Etc.

Undercover cops
Don’t expose an undercover cop on your own, since you might then be accused of “obstruction”. Discreetly and calmly spread the word to people you know. Then you may collectively decide to circle the cop while chanting, pointing fingers, and jumping. Usually, the undercover cop won’t stick around. Never forget that the person beside you may be an undercover, so watch what you say.

Voluntary dispersing
The end of the demo is always your most vulnerable time. Always leave in groups, because if people have been targeted for arrest, this is generally the time police will easily proceed to those arrests.