Dealing with the Police

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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

This topic discusses your rights as a young person when you are detained or arrested by the police.

Young persons under the Youth Criminal Justice Act are between the ages of 12 and 18 years. If you are younger than 12 years, the Youth Criminal Justice Act does not apply to you, but the police may still deal with you if you break the law.

You must answer police questions about your identification. For example, if the police stop you when you are driving a car, you must give them your name and address and show them your driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance. Sometimes, the police just want to know what’s going on and might ask for your name, address and date of birth. You may want to give this information to avoid any further problem. If you are actually charged with an offence, you must give police your name and address. It is a crime to try to deliberately confuse or mislead the police and you could be charged.

The police may arrest you without a warrant if they believe you committed a serious offence or saw you committing a serious offence. They can search you for their own safety or if they believe that you may destroy evidence. The police can hold you in custody if the Court finds it necessary to prevent further crime or to make sure that you attend your Court hearings. If you have been arrested or detained until your Court appearance, your parent or guardian will be notified as soon as possible. Where a minor offence is committed, the police may release you with a Notice to Appear in Court or a Summons. If you are released, your parent or guardian must be notified in writing of the date of the youth Court hearing. If you are a young person who is married, your spouse may be notified. If there is no parent available then an adult relative or other appropriate relative will be notified.

Rights are provided for everyone in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Young persons have the same rights and freedoms as adults. The Charter guarantees basic rights to everyone who is detained or arrested:

  • The right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure;
  • The right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned;
  • The right to be informed the reason for the arrest or detention;
  • To retain and instruct legal counsel without delay and to be told of that right; and
  • To be released if the detention is unlawful.

In order for you to understand your rights, the police must explain the rights in a language that is appropriate to your age and understanding. If you do not understand what the police are telling you, then repeat what the police officer said and ask if that is what they meant. Any statement you voluntarily or spontaneously give to the police may be used as evidence against you in criminal proceedings.

The right to a lawyer means you can call a lawyer at any stage of the criminal proceedings against you. This means before and after the arrest is made. The police should tell you that you have a right to a lawyer and if you cannot afford a lawyer, that there are legal agencies to assist you. They must provide you with a phone number or tell you that you might obtain a lawyer by a Court Order. The police must give you an opportunity to call a lawyer, and give you some privacy when you do speak to the lawyer. The police must also tell you that you have a right to talk with your parent or another adult, before being questioned.

The police must also tell you that you have a right to remain silent and that any statement you make can be used against you. There can be no improper questioning of young persons by police or other persons in authority. Do not say anything that would incriminate you such as statements or answers to questions about your activity or involvement in any crime. Your statement should be made in the presence of your counsel, parent or guardian unless you waive that right. The police must tell you that you have a right to have counsel, your parent or guardian present while you make a statement to the police.

A wavier of your rights must be videotaped or be in writing. If it is in writing, the police must obtain a statement signed by you that you have been told of the right that you are waiving. You should consult with a lawyer before you waive any of your rights to the police. Any statement given by a young person to the police will be ruled inadmissible if the statement was found to be given under duress imposed by anyone in authority. You cannot be forced into making a statement or a waiver of your rights. Even if you decide to waive your rights, you can always change your mind and not make a statement or answer questions.

If you appear in Court without a lawyer, the Judge will inform you about the right to be represented by a lawyer and adjourn the matter until you have time to obtain a lawyer. If you are unable to obtain legal counsel, the Judge shall refer you to the local legal aid program or direct that you be represented by counsel. If an Order is made for representation, the government will pay for the lawyer. You may consult with a lawyer or your parent or any other appropriate person you choose. You must have been given a reasonable opportunity to consult with counsel and a parent or other adult relative or an appropriate adult if no relative.

If you do tell the police something that you should not have told them, there are laws to prohibit the use of your statements, oral or written, in Court proceedings as admissible evidence. You should speak to your lawyer about any statements made to the police. The statement will be admissible in Court if the police told you that:

  • You did not have to say anything,
  • Anything you say could be used against you,
  • You had the right to counsel and you were given an opportunity to call counsel and speak with them, or a parent
  • You gave a voluntary statement anyway after being informed of your rights.

You will be fingerprinted and photographed if you are charged with a serious or indictable offence. This is done as soon as you are arrested for the crime. Otherwise, you may receive a notice to attend a certain place and time for fingerprints and photographs. Fingerprinting is only to be done if you have been “accused” or “convicted” of an offence. If you are found guilty, then the records are kept by the police for a period of time, depending upon the offence.