How do I erase my Youth Court criminal record?
The short answer is that, in Canada, you can never completely erase your Juvenile Court record. Police will keep notes, databases, and entries about you or your child for many, many years.
We used to analogize a criminal record to a big black book where names and criminal convictions were written down in one place, kept in one place, so that police and Courts could find a record, until the record was physically crossed out. Police and Court paperwork could simply be destroyed after the passage of time. That certainly isn't what happens now, if it ever did. Police have their own internal by-laws that govern what they do with old documents, old hard drives, and old data. A local police service will share some of its data with the RCMP. The RCMP stores that data in accordance with its own perception of the law. In some circumstances the RCMP may share data with a foreign government.
If the data ever gets into the hands of a foreign government, there is nothing that a Canadian lawyer can do to get rid of that data. That's a good reason why young persons charged or recently found guilty should not travel outside Canada and should not do anything which triggers a foreign government's inquiry to the RCMP.
Even though the statute, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, indicates dates after which Youth Court records should not be disclosed, the reality is that there is no entity that protects the privacy of Canadians to insist that police records actually be destroyed. Maybe they will follow the law; maybe they won't. Probably they will follow the law to some extent, but you can't count on it.
Over the last 40 years I've had many bad experiences with Juvenile Court or Youth Court data being used when it shouldn't have been used.
An individual, from another province, contacted me to tell me that they had applied for a job with a police service 10 years after they had received alternative measures and a withdrawal of the charge for shoplifting. They were turned down for the job, allegedly because they had not told the truth in their job application about the old Youth Court shoplifting charge. Ten years before, the Judge and duty counsel at Court had told them they would not have a criminal record because the charge was being "withdrawn by the Crown". The "period of access", to a limited set of persons or entities, to the Youth Court records, should have ended, at most, two years after the young person entered into the alternative measures. See section 119(2) of the YCJA.
One of my Youth Court clients attended Youth Court on the day of his trial for a serious criminal charge. The Crown's case collapsed due to the absence of a witness. The charge was withdrawn by the Crown. A letter was written after two months to the police service to ask that their records be purged. See section 119(2)(c) of the YCJA. After many months, the police responded with a cryptic letter that said the computer links among the youth's name, criminal charge, photo, fingerprints, and documents had been severed. Many years later, the now adult was charged with a very serious criminal offence. The police needed a search warrant of the individual's truck. The police applied for the search warrant and got it using the fact that this former young person had previous specific dealings with, and a past criminal charge, with the police service.
One of my Youth Court clients pleaded guilty to 2 out of 10 very serious criminal charges. After he had served his sentence and completed probation we waited 5 years before the parents wrote letters to the police. See section 119(2)(h) of the YCJA. The parents received a letter from the police saying the data had been purged. One year later the police in the same city were looking for a car of a particular colour that had a missing wheel disk. An officer on the road pulled into a doughnut shop and spotted a car that potentially was a match. The police officer ran the plate with the Ministry computer and got an owner's name and date of birth. The police officer, from his car, ran the name and date of birth through his police car computer and pulled up a screen that said: "Don't go any further in your search - Youth Court data has been purged for the following occurrence numbers/dates - 10 of them". The heading for the type of offence above the occurrence numbers made it clear that these occurrences related to the same kind of offence for which police were hunting for a car. My client was arrested on the basis of those "reasonable and probable grounds".
The bottom line is that no matter how much work your lawyer does to try to completely purge your Youth Record, it may come back to haunt you.
It is still, however, worthwhile to retain a lawyer to write letters: to first the local police and later the RCMP, to ask that records be purged. There can be no guarantee of success and no guarantee that the purge will be complete.
It is still worthwhile to do everything you can, to ask the police to do the right thing, and properly erase ALL records in compliance with the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
I generally charge clients about $350 to $450 to write a group of letters to police.