Unlike what you may have seen on Law and Order or countless other American legal dramas, there is no such thing as “pleading the fifth” on the stand in Canada. That phrase references the fifth amendment of the American Constitution which states that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. It is often invoked by witnesses and accused persons while testifying. In Canada, there is also a right to not be compelled to be a witness against yourself under section 11(c) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This means that no accused person can be forced to testify at his or her own trial. However, once an accused decides to take the stand, they have forfeited their right not to testify and must answer the questions asked by their lawyer, the Crown, and the Judge. If an accused refuses to answer questions while on the stand, it could be detrimental to their credibility or even lead to them being charged with obstructing justice or being in contempt of the court.
Ron Ellis is a Criminal Defence Lawyer working in London, Ontario. Ron Ellis Law would like to thank Kristen Thomas for her contributions to this blog.