Interrogation of Minors in the School

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The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association believes that the increasingly frequent practice of police interrogation of minors in schools presents a threat to the civil liberties of these minors and also raises questions about the responsibility of school officials in such affairs. The Association urges that legislation be enacted to protect the rights of minors in this regard.

Such legislation should embody the following principles:

  • No student should be interviewed at school by police without prior consultation with at least one of the student’s parents or guardians.
  • Such a parent or guardian should be present (as is required in the case of juvenile court) at such an interview.
  • In no case should a principal or teacher assume this parental responsibility.
  • Students are clearly subject to normal citizenship responsibility in assisting police, where it is established that the student involved is not subsequently to be charged.
  • This policy should be made known to students, parents, principals, teachers and police.

The special vulnerabilities of minors to institutional authority is well recognized in the law. Juvenile courts are now standard branches of our legal system. Unfortunately, the courts are not the only place where these vulnerabilities need careful protection.

Much of the working day is spent by minors in school, and it is there that the increasingly frequent questioning of minor by police takes place. Not only do these interrogations present a threat to the civil liberties of minors, they also raise the dilemma of the responsibility of school officials in such affairs.

In an attempt to resolve these problems, the Vancouver School Board has developed the following policy: Policy re Police Interviews of Students
Where possible, it would be desirable if:

  1. Arrangements were made to have the questioning of students by police conducted at their homes.
  2. In any case, the parents or guardians should be advised of the interview and their wishes obtained where contact with them may be made.
  3. Where the interview is conducted at the school and the parents are not present, the principal or teacher should be in attendance in their stead.
  4. In a case where an offence has just been committed and information is required at once to apprehend the offender, then the student having such information should be made available for questioning without delay.
  5. Where school property is involved in the commission of an offence, or an offence has been committed elsewhere bu the suspect has been pursued to the school, the parents should be advised if possible and the questioning conducted at school.
  6. When the police caution a student that he may incriminate himself, or if it becomes obvious that the questioning will lead to self-incrimination, the principal should give every consideration to contacting the parents before permitting the questioning to proceed.

In this matter there is no room for principals or teachers assuming a surrogate role during police interviews. If in such an interview a principal or teacher advises a child to answer questions of the police and he is subsequently charged, the parents may disagree with this advice and seek legal advice, and the lawyer is then in a position of having a signed statement by the student to contend with if he agrees to defend. In fact, the School Board if placing the teachers and principals in a semi-judicial role, which is undesirable.

The School Board’s policy statement item (5) attempts to differentiate as to types of offence. This is clearly wrong, and the procedures in (1), (2) and (3) of the Association’s policy outlined below should be followed.

In our view, the basic principles relating to the legal rights of minors in the mater of their interrogation by police are embodied in the following abstract from The Report of the Department of Justice Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, 1965 (Canada), Section 199: Having regard to the peculiar vulnerability of juveniles in the matter of police questioning, there have been suggestions that juveniles should be questioned by the police only in the presence of a relative or other suitable adult advisor and, further, that statements taken without this protection should not be admissible in evidence.9 We think that, as a general rule, if a child is to be questioned by the police—and particularly if he is to be invited to make a statement that may be used against him—an adult who is concerned with protecting the child’s interest should be present. This point has been stated forcibly in one decision, as follows. ‘We deal with a person who is not equal to the police in knowledge and understanding of the consequences of questions and answers being recorded and is unable to know how to protect his own interests… [He is] without advice as to his rights—from someone concerned with securing him those rights—and without aid of more mature judgement as to the steps he should take in the predicament in which he found himself.’10 Insofar as proceedings in the juvenile court are concerned we think that the matter of an admissibility of any statement taken in the absence of adult advice can be left to the discretion of the juvenile court judge. However, we do suggest that the law should provide specifically that no such statement should be admissible in the ordinary criminal courts.

In this connection, see the rules for the questioning of juveniles suggested by the court in Regina v. Jacques (1958) 29. C.R. 249 at page 268 (Quebec Social Welfare Court). See also Myren and Swanston, Police Work With Children (U.S. Department of Ed., Health and Welfare, Children’s Bureau 1962). A related question of some importance concerns the matter of police questioning of children at school. There are obvious dangers for a child in this situation and care should be taken to minimize the possibility of harm. For a useful comment on police relations with schools, see Report of the Governor’s Special Study Commission on Juvenile Justice, part II, pages 111-113. 10 Gallegos v. Colorado, 370 U.S. 49, at page 54.