Alberta’s Standard for s 10(a) Charter Rights
There has been recent disagreement about what it means to breach an individual’s s. 10(a) Charter right to be informed promptly of the reason for their arrest or detention. Specifically, there has been some variance in what and how an individual needs to be informed of their s. 10(a) rights; does the arresting officer need to expressly inform an arrestee of the reasons they’re being investigated, or can the circumstances of an investigation sufficiently alert an individual to the reasons for their arrest or detention.
A number of Alberta courts have taken to the view that the circumstances surrounding an arrest or detention may be enough for an individual to discern the reasons for that arrest or detention: see R v Herter 2007 ABQB 756, R v Carrier 2007 ABQB 719 (leave to appeal refused: 2008 ABCA 134), R v Woychuk 2014 ABQB 622. A number of these cases refer to the Supreme Court decision in R v Evans (1991) 63 CCC (3d) 289 as the foundation for their reasoning. The Ontario Court of Justice in R v Evans,  O.J. No. 2907 (unrelated to the Supreme Court decision sited above) has recently referred to a number of Supreme Court decision (including R v Evans) in coming to a completely different conclusion. The Ontario Court of Justice has disagreed with the notion that if an arrestee/detainee can be taken to know why they are being arrested/detained, then the officer is relieved of their obligation under s. 10(a) to inform them anyways of those reasons for the investigation. Where this issue comes up is often in an impaired driving context and Alberta courts tend to reason that in light of the prevalence of drinking and driving charges, being pulled over at night, near a bar might in and of itself sufficiently satisfy s. 10(a) rights. The Ontario decision is a step away from this line of thinking. In Evans, the court interprets s. 10(a) as requiring a positive duty from an officer. The problem is that requiring an Officer to explicitly inform every arrestee or detainee of the reason for the investigation seems to be pedantic, and in some situations unnecessary. On the other hand, and as the Court of Justice notes, there is nothing impractical about any such requirement.
Evans leaves room for interpretation with regards to whether an officer satisfies s. 10(a) by asking an individual in a vehicle whether they have consumed alcohol; if a person is pulled over and questioned about consumption, has the officer met their positive duty to inform them of the reason for the investigation? It seems that Alberta courts will continue to answer that question in the positive.