Youth and criminal law
People 18 years old or older who break the law are adults and have to go to adult court. There is a special law for young people aged 12 to 17. It is called the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This law says:
- People have the right to be protected from young people’s crimes.
- Young people who break the law need to understand that what they did caused harm to the community. They need help to learn how to stay out of trouble and to contribute to the community in a positive way.
- Young people have the same legal rights as adults. The police have to tell young people about their rights and explain what is happening to them.
- Young people don’t go to the same court as adults. There is a special Youth Court. The judge in Youth Court will make sure young people get a lawyer.
If a youth is charged with a crime and between the ages 12 to 17, that youth can get a free legal aid lawyer. Those who are 18 or over, may still qualify for a free legal aid lawyer. Read more about legal aid on the Legal Services Society website.
Drug, alcohol, and firearms possession
The police are allowed to search you if they have good reason to believe you have illegal drugs, weapons, or alcohol in your possession. If the police arrest you, they have the right to search you.
The consequences of being convicted for possession of marijuana or other illegal drugs, it can be serious. It is a crime. If you are charged with possession, you should contact Legal Services Society.
For a first conviction, if you had less than 30 grams of marijuana, the maximum penalties are a fine of $1,000 or six months in jail, or both. But the penalty for a first offense is usually much less. You may also get a criminal record. Having a criminal record can prevent you from traveling to other countries, getting certain jobs, being bonded (which some jobs require) and applying for citizenship.
If it is your first offence, you can ask the judge for a discharge or ask the Crown for diversion (or alternative measures). If you meet the conditions of the discharge or if you complete the alternative measures, you will not get a criminal record.
In BC, the legal drinking age is 19. Anyone under the age of 19 is considered to be a minor. If you are a minor, the following liquor laws apply:
- It’s against the law to purchase liquor for or give liquor to a minor.
- Minors are not permitted in any type of government or private liquor store unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
- Minors are allowed in a restaurant at any time, and they don’t need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, but they may not be served liquor.
- Minors may enter restaurant lounges when accompanied by an adult, but they may not be served liquor.
- Minors who are 16 or older may serve liquor in restaurants, but they may not open bottles, pour, or mix liquor.
- Minors may not be employed to sell or serve liquor in a bar or pub.
- In general, minors may not enter bars or pubs; however, there are some exceptions.
- People cannot sell or give liquor to a minor, or permit a minor to drink liquor in their home or business. The fine is a minimum of $500, and the person may also be held legally responsible for any damages or injury caused as a result.
- Parents, guardians, or spouses of a minor may provide liquor only to their child or minor spouse in the privacy of their home. This exception does not allow them to provide liquor to any other minors who may be in their home.
If minors are caught with liquor in their possession, if they try to buy liquor, if they are found inside a bar or pub, or if they try to buy liquor using false ID, they can receive a $230 violation ticket fine. Liquor inspectors can issue tickets for these offences inside licensed establishments, and other law enforcement officers can issue tickets in other locations under their jurisdiction. Police can issue tickets at any location.
Over 19 years old
If you are 19 or older, it’s a good idea to have identification with you when purchasing alcohol in BC. If a server believes you may be underage, they must verify your age by asking to see identification. If the server has any doubts about a customer’s ID, they may refuse service.
Both the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act contain offences and penalties for illegal possession or misuse of a firearm. For example, a first-time offender who has failed to register a non-restricted rifle or shotgun may be charged under theFirearms Act or under the Criminal Code.
A person who has failed to register a restricted or prohibited firearm or who has used a firearm to commit a crime would be charged under the Criminal Code. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police website contains a list of restricted and prohibited firearms. You’ll also find fact sheets about the law concerning firearms.
People under 18 years of age are not allowed to bring firearms into Canada or to buy or get firearms even as a gift, but they are allowed to use them with a minor’s licence under some circumstances. A minor’s licence permits someone under 18 to borrow non-restricted firearms (ordinary rifles and shotguns) for the following activities:
- target practice
- organized shooting competitions
- being instructed in the use of firearms
For more about obtaining a minor’s licence, see the RCMP website. Once you turn 18, you are no longer eligible for a minor’s licence. Instead, you must apply for a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) and pay the applicable fee.
Youth and gangs
Some young people join gangs. A criminal gang is a group of people who routinely break the law. Criminal gangs protect their profits from other gangs, the police, and the public through intimidation, violence, and weapons. There are 130 known criminal gangs in British Columbia and there are over 100 youth gangs. For each 100,000 youth in BC, 6,500 violent crimes – such as assault, rape, and murder – are committed.
Most gang members (60%) are visible minorities, but gang members include people who are young and old, Canadian and immigrant, religious and not, wealthy and poor. There are strong links between certain youth behaviours and the probability of becoming involved in a criminal gang. The kids who are most likely to join a criminal gang are those who exhibit many of these behaviours:
- Minimal time spent with family. Poor communication and constant conflict with family.
- Low school attendance or achievement. Minimal participation in school sports or clubs.
- High levels of school-based discipline and behaviour challenges.
- Lack of personal identity. Low ambition or low goals. Consistent lack of life achievement.
- Won’t introduce friends to parents or other family members.
- Negative and anti-social behavior. Strong ties with the wrong friends.
- Unhealthy, excessive, and unrealistic interest in gangs and gang associated behaviours
If you are in trouble with a gang and need help, or have information about gang activity, contact one of the following organizations:
- Youth Against Violence: 1-800-680-4264
- BC Crime Stoppers: 1-800-222-8477
- VictimLink BC: 1-800-563-0808
- Kids Help Phone (also for teens): 1-800-668-6868
Lies Gangs Tell Youth
Gangs are constantly recruiting youth who are the most vulnerable. Gangs do not tell the truth because they can’t; nobody would join a gang if they knew the truth about the dangers. Here are the four most common lies about gangs. For more information, also see GangPrevention.ca.
LIE # 1
The gang will protect me
Joining a gang may seem like a good idea for protection but this is the exact opposite of what happens. The truth is that the members of one gang are enemies of other gangs. Joining a gang increases your chances of becoming a target of a rival gang. And, your own gang members may turn on you. By joining a gang, you are more likely to be seriously hurt.
LIE # 2
Gang members get more respect
From who? Your parents? Your friends? Your neighbours? Criminals are NOT respected. Gang members are constantly involved in criminal and violent behaviour. People fear gang members. People will avoid you if they think you are a gang member. Respect is something you earn by succeeding in life – at school, in sports or the arts, at work, etc.
LIE # 3
My gang will be like a family to me
Even if your real family life isn’t perfect (and whose is?) joining a gang won’t make things better. Your family loves you for who you are. Your real family will not make you commit crime and be violent to others. A gang is not your family and in fact, they may threaten, hurt, or kill your family members. If you join a gang, your real family members may become targets for rival gangs.
LIE # 4
Gang members make a lot of money
Most gang members make very little money being part of a gang. For those that do make money, it is usually for a short period of time before they attract the attention of police and end up in jail. The earning potential of a gangster is low and short lived. If you are really interested in making money, you should complete your education and get a real job. Society has yet to see a gangster retire because they have earned enough money.
In this video, young gang members struggle with their criminal activities and recruit another youth into their gang.