If any of us were to be transported back 500 years to Great Britain, we would no doubt be shocked by the lack of legal protections for ordinary citizens that we take very much for granted today in Canada – and in a number of nations such as the United States and Australia. We now hold it to be an essential hallmark of any civilized nation that, for example, torture cannot be used to extract a confession. (Indeed the United States has recently drawn significant international criticism because the Bush Administration is allowing terrorist suspects to be interrogated in the name of the United States in countries that do allow torture). Among the other protections that are generally considered to be essential by Western governments are a general presumption to life and liberty, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of religious expression and the right to assemble peacefully and to petition the government.
In addition to these fundamental rights, the core of citizenship for Canadians also includes a number of rights that have to do with the rights of the accused, such as the right of all people (regardless of race, for example) to equal protection under the law, the right to a public trial and the right to know those who are accusing one of a crime, the right against arbitrary arrests and unreasonable searches, the right against excessive bails and unfair fines, the right against cruel or unusual punishment and the right against self-incrimination. This is an important tenet of Canadian law, although not sacrosanct. This paper examines how the concept of protection against self-incrimination has developed in Canadian law.
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