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driving concerns

I was returning from a snowmobile trip when an officer followed me and then stopped me in Collingwood, Ont. He said he was checking to see if I had a proper truck safety and trailer safety for the tandem trailer I was towing. I didn't. I didn't know about the rules as the trailer was new. I got a ticket for the truck and one for the trailer. Under the Charter, can he stop me on speculation? - Kevin

A police stop doesn't necessarily mean they're profiling you - even though they might be.

"They can't pull you over for racial profiling or just on a whim," said Ottawa criminal lawyer David Anber. "But they have a lot of latitude to say they're checking the licence, registration and insurance status, mechanical fitness of the vehicle or the sobriety of the driver."

In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 5-4 that random traffic stops do not violate a person's Charter rights as long as police are checking for those three specific things.

"There's also a fourth category: if they've observed you committing an offence," Anber said. "And there's a whole variety of things they can nail you for."

In the Supreme Court case, police pulled over an Ontario driver. They didn't suspect he'd broken the law when they decided to pull him over. During the stop, they found that his licence was suspended.

There have been cases where it was ruled police had profiled drivers, Anber said. In 2003, an appeals judge held that race was a factor when police pulled over Toronto Raptor Dee Brown.

Proof of profiling?

If you're pulled over by police, you could argue in court that they were violating your Charter rights by stopping you for the wrong reasons. But it could be tough to prove. And traffic court might not be the place to do it, Anber said.

"You could bring a challenge to anything," Anber said. "But there is a bit of a common sense view in the provincial offences courts as (Justices of the Peace) are reluctant to make these findings of law."

If a police officer has been following you for 10 km, "chances are he saw something he wanted to investigate," Anber said.

To show that you were targeted for some other reason, you'd need evidence, Anber said,

"That could be scrutinized against any recording with dispatch," Anber said. "If the officer says something egregious like 'I'm going to light this guy up,' then you may have a case."

If you're pulled over, pull over

What do you have to do when police signal you to pull over? Specific rules vary by province. In Ontario, section 216 of the HTA says you must immediately come to a safe stop when pulled over by police.

If you don't, you could face a fine between $1,000 and $10,000 and up to six months in jail. If it turns into a chase, fines could be as high as $25,000.

When you've been pulled over, you're legally required to show your licence, vehicle registration and insurance. But, you're not legally required to answer questions beyond that - although polite cooperation might get you on your way with just a warning.

"It really depends on the reason you've been pulled over," Anber says. "If somebody is pulled over during a RIDE program, the best thing is to hand over your licence and remain silent - anything you say can be used against you."

In an e-mail statement, Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) said police and MTO enforcement officers can stop any vehicle at any time to make sure the driver is complying with the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) and the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act.

Inspection rules confusing

That includes having an inspection sticker for some trucks and trailers. The set fine for not having one is $200 plus $40 in fees.

So how do you know if your truck and your snowmobile or ATV trailer need to be inspected? Because pickup trucks are considered commercial vehicles even if you're not using them for business, things can get extremely confusing.

Under the HTA, your truck and trailer must be inspected at a Motor Vehicle Inspection Station if the truck has a registered gross weight greater than 4,500 kg - or if "in the combination with the trailer, the commercial vehicle has a registered gross weight or manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating greater than 4500 kg," the MTO said.

The set fine for not having one is $200 plus $40 in fees.

Have a driving question? Send it to Canada's pretty big, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.