This page has been written for the purposes of legal education. Its purpose is to present in a general and simplified manner the law in force in Quebec concerning police powers and duties, your obligations as citizens and advice when you believe that a police officer has used unnecessary force. Its content should therefore not be construed as legal advice or advice. To find out the specific rules or advice appropriate to your situation, consult a lawyer.
When do police have the authority to use force against a person?
Police officers or other peace officers only have the authority to use force if they have the legal authority to intervene with a person. They have the authority to use force when it is necessary to control a person, prevent their escape, protect human life or defend themselves.
What is considered a use of force by the police?
In Quebec, future police officers are taught the National Use of Force Model. According to this model, the police officer has 5 options for use of force:
- Their presence. The mere presence of a police officer can positively influence the behaviour of an individual or the course of a situation.
- Communication. An officer can communicate verbally or non-verbally to gain control of a situation.
- Physical control. The police officer can use a technique to control an individual without the use of a weapon. There are so-called light techniques that are unlikely to cause injury: immobilization techniques, escort techniques, joint control, pressure points or unresisting handcuffs. There are also powerful techniques, which are likely to cause injury, such as punching, kicking, grounding or neck control.
- Intermediate weapons. This is the use of a weapon that is not used to cause serious bodily harm or death. A police officer may use a conducted energy weapon (TASER), an impact weapon such as a baton, or an aerosol such as tear gas or pepper spray.
- Deadly force. A police officer's last option is to use a weapon or technique intended to cause serious bodily harm or death, such as a firearm.
How much force can police use in a response?
If a police officer intervenes with a person in order to arrest him or her, the use of force option they choose depends on how dangerous the person is and whether he or she is likely to flee. This assessment takes into account situational factors, the individual's behaviour, the officer's perceptions and tactical considerations. The officer must make this assessment on an ongoing basis throughout the response to ensure the safety of the public and the officer.
Here is how the individual's behavior can influence the degree of force employed by the officer:
- Cooperation. If the person is cooperating and not offering resistance, physical control should generally not be used in these circumstances. However, there may be times when it is still appropriate to decide to exercise a low level of physical control by handcuffing even a cooperative person upon arrest after assessing that the person presents some degree of dangerousness or high flight risk.
- Passive Resistance. If the person is passively resistant at the time of arrest, i.e., refuses to obey a peace officer's commands, the officer has the authority to exercise mild physical control if the communication fails to change his or her behavior.
- Active Resistance. The individual is physically resisting arrest, either by moving away from or away from the officer when the officer attempts to handcuff him or her, by fleeing, or by openly walking toward the officer. In these cases, the officer may exert strong physical control and possibly use an intermediate weapon if strong physical control is not sufficient to control the officer.
- Assault. The use of an intermediate weapon is generally appropriate when the individual shows signs of aggression or commits an assault on a police officer or another person.
- Serious or Fatal Bodily Injury. Finally, if the individual's behavior suggests that the individual intends or is about to cause serious bodily injury or death to a person, then the officer may be justified in using deadly force to protect himself or herself or the potential victim.
What can happen to a police officer if he uses excessive force against a citizen?
According to the Code of Ethics of Quebec Police Officers, a police officer must not use more force than is necessary to accomplish what he is enjoined or permitted to do (art. 6 paragraph 1). In addition, article 11 of the Code dictates that the police officer must use a weapon and any other piece of equipment with caution and discernment. If he is cited and found in violation before the Police Ethics Committee, he could receive various sanctions, the most severe of which is dismissal and disqualification from performing his duties for a certain period of time.
Depending on the circumstances, a police officer or any other peace officer could also be charged with criminal assault or aggravated assault for using excessive force against a person.
What should I do if a police officer uses excessive force against me?
- Seek medical attention. If you are injured as a result of the use of force, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible so that a medical report can be made and used as evidence in the future.
- Take notes and pictures of your injuries. Take notes after the incident about what happened with as many factual details as possible (Who? What? When? Where? How?), especially about what leads you to believe that the police officer used excessive force against you. It is also a good idea to keep photographic evidence of your injuries.
- Consult a lawyer. He or she can help you assess what remedies are appropriate for you and your situation.
- Consider filing a police ethics complaint. You have the option of filing a police ethics complaint. If we believe that the events alleged in your complaint are potentially criminal, then we will refer the file to a police organization for criminal investigation. We will handle your complaint appropriately.
What should I do if I witness an intervention involving the use of force by the police?
You must remain safe and not interfere with the intervention. You have the right to discreetly film the scene. You can file a complaint with the Commissaire à la déontologie policière or offer to be a police ethics witness if you believe excessive force was used.
What can I do to reduce the likelihood of police using force when I am the subject of a police intervention?
It is recommended that you calmly cooperate and comply with a police officer's requests and orders and behave in the least threatening manner possible to avoid the police perceiving that they must use force against you.
You may be subject to criminal charges if you obstruct the police by refusing to comply, assault a peace officer, use or threaten to use a weapon against a peace officer or disarm or attempt to disarm a peace officer.