Today embattled drug entrepreneur Martin Shkreli testified at a Congressional hearing convened to discuss prescription drug prices. Shkreli gained notoriety when he, formerly as CEO of a pharmaceutical company, purchased a drug used to treat AIDS patients and hiked its price up over 5000%. In December of 2015, he was arrested by the FBI for alleged securities fraud stemming from his earlier tenure at a capital management firm.

Not surprisingly, Shkreli “pleaded the fifth” today, so to speak, when probed by members of Congress, about apparent price fixing in the pharmaceutical industry. In layman’s terms, pleading the fifth is related to the Fifth Amendment (Amendment V) to the United States Constitution which, when invoked, protects a person against being compelled to be a witness against himself or herself in a criminal case.

Here in Canada, similar rights exist pursuant to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 11 of the Charter provides that one cannot be compelled to be a witness in a proceeding against oneself, and Section 13 says incriminating evidence in a prior proceeding cannot be used against that witness in any other proceeding, except in prosecution for perjury or for the giving of contradictory evidence.

An important distinction in Canadian law is that this does not apply to a person who is not charged in the case in question. A person issued subpoena, who is not charged in respect of the offence being considered, must give testimony. However, this testimony cannot later be used against the person in another case.