Top court upholds conviction in 'right to remain silent' case

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the murder conviction of a B.C. man in a case viewed as a test of how police interrogation tactics should square with the charter's long-protected right to silence.

B.C. man convicted in shooting death says police forced him to talk

The Supreme Court of Canadahas upheldthe murder convictionof a B.C. man in a caseviewed as a test ofhow police interrogation tactics should square with the charter's long-protected right to silence.

The court ruled 5-4Thursday againstthe appeal from Jagrup Singh, a 31-year-old from Surrey, B.C.,of his 2002 conviction for second-degree murder.

The case revolved around the question of whether police breached Singh's right to remain silent when they persisted in questioning him about a shooting, even though he repeatedly made it clear that he didn't want to talk.

Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,the accused has the right "not to be compelled to be a witness" against himself in criminal proceedings.

"It is not appropriate to impose a rigid requirement that police refrain from questioning a detainee who states that he or she does not wish to speak to police," Justice Louise Charron wrote in her majority opinion.

Singh was accused of firing a handgun through the open door of a bar after being kicked out for fighting in April 2002. The stray bullet struck the head of bystander Rick Lof, a 30-year-old from Langley, B.C.

Singh was arrested days later, but while being questioned by the Surrey RCMP, he repeatedly raised his right to silence.

According to the Supreme Court case summary, Singh told the police that he did not want to talk, that he had nothing to say, that he knew nothing about the shooting and that he wanted to return to his cell.

The interrogating officers ignored his pleas and pressed on with questioning. Eventually, in the second of two interviews, Singh gave a confession.

The judge hearinghis trial in 2002admitted Singh's statements into evidence and a jury convicted him.

In her opinion summary released after the Supreme Court's ruling, Charron wrote thatthe trial judge was awareof therisk that a confession obtained through police persistence in continuing an interview might not be aproduct of the accused's free will to speak to authorities. Shesaid the judgemade the right call in allowing the evidence and ensuring policedidn't overstep the bounds.

However, Justice Morris Fish, writing for the four-member minority, took the opposite tack.

"The question on this appeal is whether 'no' means 'yes' where a police interrogator refuses to take 'no' for an answer from a detainee under his total control," Fish wrote.

"As a matter of constitutional principle, I would answer that question in the negative, allow the appeal and order a new trial."

With files from the Canadian Press