Cases & Decisions

R v LTH [Police Interrogation of Young People]

Court: Supreme Court of Canada, 2008

JFCY intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case against a young person from Nova Scotia. The young person had been charged with dangerous driving causing bodily harm. When he was taken to the police station, the police went through a standard form with him, telling him about his right to refuse to answer questions or to have a lawyer or other adult present. While the officer was reading the form, the responses of the young person seemed to indicate that he did not understand the nature of the form. The young person had a learning disability, and the police were aware of this because his mother had told them. The Youth Criminal Justice Act states that no statement of a young person can be used against him unless his rights have been “Clearly explained to the young person, in language appropriate to his or her age and understanding”.

JFCY argued that the correct way of interpreting the JFCY, according to previous cases, international law, and the plain meaning of the words, requires an individual approach to providing young people with their rights. Young people are vulnerable when they are being interrogated by the police, and this is even more so when the young person faces a barrier which makes his or her understanding of rights more difficult.

The SCC held that the statement should not have been used against the young person, and that the police must take reasonable steps to determine whether the language they are using to explain his rights to him is appropriate – not to young people generally, but to the individual young person who they are interrogating.

On the secondary issue of the degree to which the crown has to prove that the language was appropriate, four of the seven judges decided that the standard is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, a very high standard, and the other three would have held that the proper standard is ‘on a balance of probabilities’, which is a lower standard of proof.

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