Newfoundland police no longer need a reason to stop drivers

Photo by Colin Brough

Recent changes to the Newfoundland and Labrador Highway Traffic Act allow police to arbitrarily pull over vehicles. Previously, police had to have articulable cause, like, say, a broken headlight or a half-open trunk full of drained liquor bottles.

So what remaining civil rights do you have if you’re pulled over?

According to criminal lawyer Bob Simmonds, not many.

“They have the right to stop you arbitrarily, if they wish to,” says Simmonds. “It’s not a case of whether you should cooperate. The law now requires you under the highway traffic act to stop.”

If you’re the driver, says Simmonds, they can ask for your license and registration. If you’re a passenger in a car that’s been pulled over, he says they’re allowed to ask you for identification.

“Once they stop you, they can look into your car,” he says. They can’t do a full-out search immediately, though. By law, they need justification for that.

“If, supposedly, they see something that’s illegal, they can take further steps,” he explains. “They can search under the Liquor Control Act, for instance. To search a home, they need a search warrant, but in the case of a car, it’s not nearly as clear.”

“There’s really not very much a driver can do,” he adds. “Cooperate with the police, and take very good notes as quickly as you can after the stop if you are supposedly charged with anything.”

7 comments

  1. CoreyQ · February 14, 2012

    There has been a lot of debate on this subject when it was first announced. I, for one, think its a good thing. I’m not one of the tin-foil hat-wearing paranoid types that thinks its the government out to get us and control aspects of our life, and bringing us one step closer to a police state.

    The bottom line is, driving on public roads is a licensed activity. You are required to follow a set of rules in or for the privilege (not right!) to drive on those roads. It is the responsibility of those granting those privileges to ensure that everyone who is licensed and actively engaging in said activity is following those rules, and to ensure the safety of all others.

    You make the choice whether you exercise that privilege or not, and if you chose to do that, you have to accept the rules that go with it. Not unlike air travel, none of us like getting searched, but we accept it because its part of the privilege of flying.

    Lets not kid ourselves, the cops didn’t *really* need a reason to pull you over all along. What this amendment does, is closes a loophole that some lawyers were using to get their clients off of charges because the reasons the cops used for pulling them over wasn’t 100% concrete. This closes the loophole. Don’t think this all-of-a-sudden restricts your free will, or stomps all over your civil rights. You drive on public roadways, you accept the rules and the consequences and enforcement that goes along with it.

  2. Greg · February 14, 2012

    This article is old, but I just stumbled across it in some research. I have to disagree with Corey on this.

    Firstly, I am quite sure that there is not a malignant guiding force behind government that seeks to subjugate us as citizens. I do however think that government cannot resist making new laws and legislation. By their very nature, laws do not tell you what you can do, they tell you what you cannot do. The governmental inability to resist temptation when it comes to the passage of yet more laws is slowly eroding what we call freedom. As the years pass by we will find ourselves with less and less freedom. That isn’t tinfoil hat wearing crazy talk, it’s just fact. Governments just cannot seem to just sit still and do nothing. So what do they do? They pass a new law! Each one whittles down the realm of possible “free” actions.

    “Lets not kid ourselves, the cops didn’t *really* need a reason to pull you over all along.”

    As far as this quote goes, well, yes, the Police DID *really* need a reason to pull you over. Because they DID need a reason, and in some cases didn’t have one, some cases were being thrown out. I think what you are sort of winking and nudging at is that in the absence of a “reason” the police would make one up. This was illegal under the letter of the law prior to this legislation. Winking and nudging about cops telling lies to get convictions is scary. If it doesn’t scare you it should. What else do they lie about I wonder?

    I understand the concept of driving as a privilege, and agree 100%. But it is only a “privilege” insofar as you must complete a safety test and prove your driving proficiency in a written and practical exam, register your vehicle and maintain insurance while abiding the practical rules of the road. Driving should not be seen as a privilege in the sense that any time you are on the road you are subject to being pulled over. You should only be pulled over if you are seen to commit an observable infraction.

  3. John · February 14, 2012

    As a passenger you do NOT have to provide your name
    Yes they can ask but you don’t need to provide anything, Just as you do not have to provide it while walking down the street

  4. Anonymous · February 14, 2012

    John technically you may be right about that. The problem is that when you’re in a vehicle it’s extremely easy for the cops to mess with you. If you piss them off at all they can and will search the car. The lawyer in the article is spot on, there’s really not much you can do other than cooperate. It isn’t the same as walking down the street at all.

  5. John · February 14, 2012

    you can and should refuse all searches, when I got back from Ontario a couple years ago I was pulled over on a bum tip that I had smuggled cigarettes on board, not true but the police pulled me over in Stephenville, removed me from my car frisked me cuffed me and put me in the back of the police cruiser.
    then said “I’m going to search your car ok?” I said “I do not consent to any searches” the officer repeated word for word what I said to him with a displeased look on his face and then went over and asked my passenger if he could search, my passenger said no.

    The officer then returned to the cruiser that I was sitting in and opened the door took me out of the car and removed the handuffs and then procedded to tell me that they were acting on a tip that had come in that morning
    He then offered me money for information on “anything that I knew of”
    I said no and walked back to my car and drove away

    my experiences with city police differ greatly though, they have invented reasons to search “I smell alcohol” and stupid things like that.
    I believe the RCMP holds themselves to a higher standard of respecting your rights and I respect them for it. even if I did get hassled they mostly respected my rights (aside from the search of my person) which turned up a cigarette lighter that I thought I had lost!

  6. Anonymous · February 14, 2012

    Yeah, but first you were talking about having people in the car refuse to identify themselves. I wouldn’t let a cop search my car without a warrant either, but the thing is they can get a warrant to search a car pretty much no questions asked. Like you said, they make up reasons, and some of them will do this just out a spite. It sounds like the cops you were dealing with just didn’t want to be bothered to do this. I was just saying that when you get pulled over, for whatever reason, it’s best to not be a knob about it (and in your case it doesn’t sound like you were) so that hopefully it wont get to the point where the cops have a search warrant for your vehicle (and once again, in your case it didn’t).

  7. John · February 14, 2012

    the friend that was with me that day (I edited it out because it was a long read) was with me in Ontario and refused to give his name. We were there for 20 mins approx while 4 extra cruisers showed up.
    I was pulled over for having a taillight out, I was co-operative he was not, only in the fact he wouldn’t identify himself. I told them his first name but wouldn’t budge on the last name because I said if he didn’t want to tell them I was not going to. to respect his wishes.
    eventually they let us go, I did not receive any tickets, they did not receive his name
    you do not have to identify yourself as a passenger
    but be prepared for a hassle

    PS: I was told by two separate officers (one a relative) that you do not have to give ID as a passenger even when not wearing a seatbelt as it isn’t an arrestable offense. (I haven’t tried this one)
    police are allowed to lie to you to get information
    they will tell you they are going to arrest you
    I don’t know what charge.. maybe they will invent one for “failing to show your papers to the gestapo” but it thankfully doesn’t exist yet
    Being a passenger in a car is exactly like walking down the street, you are not doing anything that requires you to have any sort of license and there is no law that requires you to carry ID at all times
    in the article it says they are allowed to ASK you for identification
    you do NOT have to provide it unless you are driving or under arrest