A common question that is asked of a criminal defence lawyer, is the following: what do I say if the police start to question me? The short answer, is that you have no obligation to make a statement to the police. This remains the case whether you are the victim of a crime, whether you are a witness to a crime, or whether you are the accused in a crime. Nobody can be compelled to make a statement to the police. However, if you do make a statement, whether as a victim, witness or accused, different concerns attach. If you are the victim of a crime, otherwise known as a complainant, then you must realize that once a statement is made, you will no longer have as much control over whether the accused is prosecuted, or what happens with the case. In Canadian law, it is the police who lay charges, and the Crown who prosecutes them. Thus, once youve made a statement as a complainant, it will not be up to you whether to press charges or not. Thus, it is extremely common in Ottawa that the complainant wants to drop the charges several days after the initial complaint is made. This desire falls upon deaf ears. The Crown is now in charge of the case and their policy dictates that the matter is proceeding whether you, the complainant, likes it or not.
As a witness that is, a third party witness to a crime, you also have no obligation to make a statement to the police. You could, hypothetically, be witness to a bank robbery and hold the key piece of evidence to the case. Still, you do not have a legal obligation to make a statement to the police. Of course, in practice, it is difficult to think of a reason why an uninvolved witness would choose militant silence in such a case. However, a more apt example would be a mother, who witnesses her son assault his spouse. The mother is not accused; the mother is not a victim. The mother however, saw the entire event. And yet, should she implicate her own son? If the mother were to make a false statement, that would constitute obstructing justice, and she could be charged accordingly. However, the mother can choose to make no statement whatsoever. There is no crime for silence. Granted, the Crown could still subpoena her to the stand and compel her to testify, but it would be folly for a Crown to call a witness to the stand without knowing what they would say.
As an accused in a crime, you are the only one facing any jeopardy. In general, the advice is: say nothing. There are however, cases in which it is advantageous to make a statement to the police. In theory, if youre innocent, all youd need to do is tell the truth. Such advice would, unfortunately, be Pollyanna. There is no guarantee that the police will see your version as the actual truth. Making a statement at the outset of the investigation generally hinders your defence. Remember, that there is never anything stopping you from making a statement at trial, through testimony, after youve practiced with skilled counsel, and after all of the potential testimonial traps have been identified. The only way to determine what the best course of action is would be to discuss the case in detail with a criminal defence lawyer. Once theyve had a change to review all relevant material, you can develop a strategy that maximizes your chance of an acquittal, or even not be charged at all.