Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyer on 630CHED to discuss upcoming webinar on teens and crime
Whether it’s a matter of poor judgment or something more serious, teen crime has always been a social challenge. Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act ensures swift legal action so that young people facing criminal charges clearly understand the connection between their behaviour and a judge’s decision on sentencing.
Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyer Karen McGowan joined CHED Edmonton to share details on LAA’s upcoming webinar, Teens and Crime: What Parents Need to Know taking place on October 4. “We get a lot of questions from parents about what to do when kids are getting out of control,” says McGowan. “This webinar helps to educate parents on what to look for in risky behaviours, and what kids’ rights are, from the moment they’re arrested to the completion of their matters.”
As part of Legal Aid Alberta’s 50th anniversary Public Education Series, this webinar is hosted by LAA staff lawyers Karen McGowan and Kathleen Reyes, who have more than 40 years of combined experience in the criminal justice system.
This free webinar will provide important information about the youth criminal justice system for parents and teens, and what to do when kids get involved in the justice system.
Register today for this free online webinar!
Date: October 4, 2023
Time: 12 – 1 p.m.
Transcript of the program
Stacey Brotzel: Let’s bring in Karen McGowan, she’s a Legal Aid Alberta lawyer, good morning, Karen.
Karen McGowan: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
Daryl McIntyre: You bet, and it’s because of this free webinar we’re having, and it’s on Wednesday. It’s called “Teens and the Law: What Parents Need to Know”. Was there a bunch of demand for this, or have you done it before?
Karen: It’s part of our 50th anniversary of Legal Aid, part of our public education series, and this is one of them. We do get a lot of questions from parents about what to do when kids are getting out of control, when they have gotten into conflict with the law, or they’re afraid that they’ll come into conflict with the law, so this webinar helps to educate parents, social workers, even teachers on what to look for on risky behaviours, and what kids’ rights are, from the moment they’re arrested to the completion of their matters.
Stacey: Let’s ask you that question right now – what should we be looking out for in terms of parents and their teenagers?
Karen: Well, the most common risk factors are kids who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse, homelessness, poverty, cognitive impairments like Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, addictions and Indigenous teens, particularly because of the intergenerational trauma, but there are kids who don’t have any of these risk factors that are frequently getting charged with child pornography and sexual assault.
Stacey: OK, can we unpack that a little bit? Are we talking about sexting?
Karen: Yes, that’s exactly it. Sexting. Kids who are on Snapchat – Snapchat is the underage version of Tinder, and during COVID, when kids were being locked down at home, they were reaching out on Snapchat. Sometimes, they were chatting with their actual friends, but they were also kind of using it as a dating site, sneaking out of houses and meeting up with strangers.
Stacey: I have to take a deep breath because my 14-year-old – yeah.
Daryl: Strangers of what age?
Karen: Typically, it’s kids their own age.
Daryl: So where does the crime in this come? I would think – and we have heard before that it’s images that then get shared beyond, say, two people. Or is it even just between those two people, is that a crime?
Karen: A young person won’t get charged if they’re just sharing between themselves but when they start showing between their buddies, or if they keep the pictures and send it on – that’s distributing child pornography.
Stacey: So, you get a phone call, from a police officer, telling the parent that your child has been involved in this, as a parent, what do you do then? Do you call a lawyer immediately? What happens?
Karen: Well, the young person should probably call a lawyer immediately, especially if the police are trying to interview them, my regular advice is to tell them to keep their mouth shut, not to give us their phone over to the police with their passwords. The police might seize it anyway, but don’t do anything voluntarily, and always make sure that you have a parent with you when the police are trying to talk to you. That way, if the kid forgets to shut up, the parents at least can make sure they shut up.
Daryl: And that’s the point of view as the defence, what about for someone who might be a victim of that? If you go through this webinar, and you talk about suggestions for parents and for kids, what are what are the whole sides of what you would suggest in these kinds of cases?
Karen: I don’t represent complainants in these types of matters, but I think it’s important that the parents speak to their kids, especially if they’re on social media and stuff like that. So, they sit them down, and they explain to them what the pitfalls are, you know what sexual boundaries are, what consent is, that it’s okay to say no, it’s okay to change your mind, things of that nature. And of course, you know once you send a nude image out, it’s out there forever. Even though Snapchat apparently has things disappear, it’s still possible to screenshot or use another device to record it.
Daryl: As you’re talking with kids or run into these – do they just not know? Or are they happily oblivious or ignoring?
Karen: I don’t think that they really know – I think when we do sex education with kids, we teach about the birds and the bees and biology and stuff like that. But I don’t think they explain to the young people the social aspects of these things, and this is how a lot of kids get wrapped up in this.
Stacey: Yeah, the prefrontal cortex just not developed yet, so they’re not making great decisions, right? As a parent, what can we do? Can we monitor phones, do we monitor their behaviour, do we make sure they know if they’re going out with their buddy, that they’re actually with their buddy? Can parents step up to help prevent a phone call to you?
Karen: Well, I think the most important thing for parents is that they explain to the young person what the pitfalls are, because I just don’t think that a lot of kids even pay attention, they don’t think that far ahead. Most kids are very impulsive – they only think 10 minutes ahead, they don’t think a lifetime ahead, so it’s up to the parents to do that, and I don’t have kids myself. But I’m not suggesting that parents snoop through everything, but they should keep somewhat monitoring them, and of course, you know, we now have GPS on our phones. So technically, we now know where kids are, we didn’t know where our kids were when I was young.
Daryl: Karen McGowan is a Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyer. There is a free webinar, this Wednesday, Teens and the Law: What Parents Need to Know. I guess it’s important to understand the difference between the youth and adult justice systems too, is that part of what gets explained in this webinar?
Karen: Yeah, we clear up some of the misunderstandings. One of those misunderstandings is that your criminal record will magically disappear on your 18th birthday – it does not. There is an access period of between three to five years in the completion of your sentence. So, if you’re 17 years old, and you get a 12-month probation order, you don’t start counting all three and five years until after that order is done, so if they went by indictment, that young person’s record would not get sealed until they’re what, 23? So that’s a common misconception. Another is that kids just get a slap on the wrist because the maximum jail sentence is two to three years, again depending on what the nature of the charge is. But kids have a different timeframe than us, I think we all look at time in terms of fractions of our own life, so five years to you and I might feel like a year ago, but to a 15-year-old it’s a third of their life.
Stacey: And not to mention the cost, right? To go through a court process and then trying to get their record expunged as well, there’s some costs to this as well.
Karen: With young people, the sealing of the record is automatic. With adults, you have to get a pardon. But with youth, it’s automatic. If you commit a criminal offence after your 18th birthday, while still within that access period, any youth record you had now gets converted into an out record and will fall you for the rest of your life until you’re pardoned.
Stacey: Alright, thanks so much for joining us Karen today.
Karen: You’re welcome.
Stacey: Karen McGowan, Legal Aid Lawyer, is hosting a couple voices on a free public webinar happening on Wednesday, from 12 until 1. As I mentioned, it’s free, you just have to Google Legal Aid Alberta, teens and crime and you can get hooked up and registered for this event.