The law is full of technical language that scares many of us out of learning everything about it. However, true to the old adage that knowledge is power, knowing a little about the law can save you a lot of grief.

In an attempt to keep your noses out of the heavy books I had to carry during law school, below is a list of five basic legal tips that may save you one day. As I am not a lawyer, I cannot call this advice, so do with them what you will and protect yourselves.

Get everything that could be considered a contract in writing

Whether you’re buying a computer or taking out an insurance policy, get your arrangement in writing and make sure it’s signed by both you and the person or company you’re dealing with. This is extremely important, for while the law says that contracts can be verbal, written proof transforms any dispute from your word against theirs to one with tangible proof of your arrangement. If you have the means, getting the document notarized will give it extra weight.

Keep copies of EVERYTHING

CopIES not A copy, and make sure at least one of these copies is in a safe place that you and only you have access to. This doesn’t have to be a safety deposit box. You have a box of sex toys you know no one is going to go anywhere near? Put the documents in a baggy and stick them in there.

If a contract sours and you have proof of the obligations in it, the other person can be held accountable for their end of the deal in a court of law. If they agreed to pay you X and they paid you Y and you don’t have a copy of the contract, you may not get the remainder of the balance. If you have something in writing and the document suddenly disappears, the other party can deny the arrangement ever existed or that the terms were different.

Proof is the best protection, so keep copies of receipts, contracts, labels, and price tags where necessary.

Remember that ALL jobs in Quebec have to pay a wage

A lot of job seekers get phone calls from companies who saw their CV on sites like and ask them if they’d like to come for an interview. They’ll say the work is a customer service job.

What they will not tell you over the phone is that the job usually pays commission only and requires you to do door-to-door sales, making the transport costs greater than any money you’ll make because not everyone is going to buy from you. Many will feel pressured to go for the interview and accept the job because they are on unemployment or welfare and think the limitations of these programs require them to take the first job that’s offered.

No one has to take these jobs because they are illegal.

According to Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards, an employee is someone who works for an employer, and all employees are legally entitled to a wage for the work they do. If you’re in a profession that allows you to earn tips, the minimum wage you are entitled to will be less, but no matter the job, the employer is legally obligated to pay you for the work, regardless of whether or not you succeed in selling the product.

If you get a call asking you if you’re looking for work, do not be afraid to sort out the wage question over the phone. Doing so will save you a lot of potentially wasted time.

Do not always believe what government employees tell you and do not be afraid to argue with them

People who phone in noise complaints will usually be told that if the noise happens between 7 am and 11 pm, it is not grounds for a complaint. People who go to the police about harassment will often be told that if it happened only once, it’s not harassment. Most people will accept this answer, apologize, and move on.

The problem is that the rules aren’t always what the people who should be enforcing them say they are.

The municipal bylaw for NDG/Cote-des-Neiges, for example, actually says that noise complaints are judged based on a question of reasonability. If, for example, your neighbor has been making cosmetic repairs his home and the construction crew hasn’t been using any sort of muffling equipment thus making ear-splitting machine noise starting at 7 am for over a month, that’s clearly unreasonable. With harassment, if you feel harassed by the behavior, it’s harassment even if it only happened once.

Before calling in a complaint or speaking to the police, check the laws online and do not be afraid to argue if they claim the behavior is legal.

If you are arrested or detained by police, ask them the reason for it and NEVER answer any questions without an attorney present

If you are detained by the police you have a legal right to know why. If they will not tell you, they are breaking the law.

During your detention NEVER answer any questions without an attorney present. Though we’d all like to think the cops are the good guys, there is always the risk they will try to make you confess to something you didn’t do, and many people will do anything to get home to bed if tired, hungry, and under stress.

Make a mental note of any negative remarks officers make about your race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. It’s a fact that racism is rampant among even Canadian police and evidence that your detention is about prejudice not crime may save you.

Knowledge of the law can save you from being cheated or deprived of your freedom. With a little training you can teach yourself to stick it to shady employers, selfish neighbors, and hold police accountable for questionable behavior.