Video and legal FAQs on youth criminal law

Albertans from across the province attend Legal Aid Alberta's virtual event to learn about youth crime.

Communications and Public Relations
February 26, 2021

On February 24, Albertans of every stripe and from every corner of the province logged in for Legal Aid Alberta’s virtual event Teens and the Law: What to do when bad behaviour turns criminal. LAA lawyer and youth criminal justice expert Karen McGowan addressed risk factors, rights, and options in this hour-long presentation.


Q: Is a young person’s criminal record sealed or erased once they turn 18?

A: No. As long as a young person convicted of a crime completes their sentence without incurring new charges, the record will be sealed or destroyed three years from the completion of the sentence, in the case of a summary offence, and five years from completion of the sentence for an indictable offence.

But the record can pose problems. For example, consider a young person convicted of a crime on their 16th birthday and sentenced to one year of probation: if it is a summary conviction, the three-year “access period” takes them to the age of 20, and for an indictable offence that access period extends to the age of 22. If the young person commits another crime within that three- or five-year access period, after their 18th birthday, the youth record follows them into adulthood and becomes part of an adult record.

If you are travelling out of the country as a youth with a criminal record, it’s possible you will be flagged by other countries as having a record—for life. Consider travel carefully: consult an immigration lawyer if you’re concerned about this.

Q: If my child’s behaviour is increasingly problematic and I’m worried about possible criminal activity, what options do I have besides calling the police?

A: There are many community resources available to help you and your child. An extensive support services list is available on the LAA website.

Q: Wouldn’t you want your child to attend a police interview to find out if they are having problems?

A: The role of the police is to investigate a crime. It is risky to use a police interview to discover if your child is having any type of problems. Once police are involved they have discretion for laying a charge. Once your child is in front of a police officer anything they say can be used against them and they could end up being charged with a crime.

If you have concerns about your child, you’re better off taking them to a social services agency, whether it’s related to mental health or addition counselling. That’s how you get to the root of a problem—not by going to the police.

Q: Is a young person who sends a nude photo of themself to another person guilty of a crime?

A: No. A young person who initially shares an image of themself is not going to be charged. A person who receives it and then shows it to or shares it with someone else is potentially guilty of distributing child pornography.

Q: If you are the recipient of a sexual photo, is that harassment?

A: It is offensive but probably not criminal. If it is an adult sending sexual photos to a 14-year-old – yes, that is criminal.

Q: There is a such thing as spousal privilege. Is there privilege between parents and their children?

A: There is no privilege between parents and children. There is privilege between a lawyer and client.

Q: Is there a high number of matters referred to extra judicial sanctions, where the young person faces consequences for their actions but is not given a criminal record?

A: This is part of the iceberg that we as lawyers don’t see, because the police have broad discretion and they can put young people into diversion immediately, without laying charges. However, a lawyer could advocate to allow that young person to do EJS. It is at the forefront of prosecutors’ minds to see what avenues they can use short of having to prosecute them all the way to trial.

Q: If a youth successfully completes extra judicial sanctions, would you recommend they not travel?

A: With EJS there is no criminal record, so you could travel. But you have to be honest at border crossings when asked if you’ve ever been arrested or charged with a crime. Also, if you have completed EJS and apply for a job that requires security clearance, police will disclose that, during a two-year access period.

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