Can youth curfews be legally enforced?

The move to impose a youth curfew was made after over a dozen homes were vandalized within a two-day period.
The move to impose a youth curfew was made after over a dozen homes were vandalized within a two-day period. Stock photo from iStock/Getty Images.

Curfew. The word sends many a shiver down the spines of youths who hear it.

None so much as for the teenagers in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, where the mayor has imposed a little used 2005 city curfew bylaw. The bylaw forces teenagers under 18 years of age to be home from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., or at least be accompanied by an adult if they are out between those hours.

This was done, Mayor Thomas Sierzycki claims, due to a surge in vandalism and property crimes committed by minors.

The controversial move to impose a youth curfew was made after over a dozen homes were vandalized within a two-day period in mid-November of this year, and thousands of dollars’ worth of goods were stolen.

A few days after the thefts, police arrested the possible suspects which were three teenagers; one as young as 13 years old.

However, reception of the news of the curfew has not been positive so far. The imposition of the curfew is being called “oppressive” and “dystopian” and one person wrote: “And now dictatorship rules, im (sic) really beginning to wander (sic) if Canada is still a free county (sic).”

This brings up an important point: while the curfew is being enforced to stop youth vandalism, is imposing a curfew on minor’s a rights violation issue?

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees several important rights that would apply in this situation:

  • S. 2(d): freedom of association;
  • S. 7: The right to life, liberty and security of the person;
  • S. 9: The right not to be arbitrarily detained;
  • S. 15: Equality rights.

Given that the Charter guarantees all these rights, how can our freedoms really be restricted by a municipal bylaw?

Years ago, a similar situation arose in Manitoba. In the city of Thompson, a curfew was imposed on teenagers in 2005, to stop an ongoing wave of vandalism and violence.

Some parents took offence to the city’s curfew, and challenged it, claiming that the curfew infringed on the minor’s above Charter rights.

They claimed that not only did it infringe on Charter rights, but because the police were given greater authority by the bylaw, it actually crossed into criminal law territory. Making criminal laws is the purview of the federal government, not a municipality.

In the face of the constitutional challenge, the city got rid of the curfew.

Another curfew bylaw, this time in Huntingdon, Quebec, was nullified in 2004 by the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

In some Alberta cities, curfews on teenagers have been successfully imposed. Many First Nation communities also impose curfews on their minors to curb crime rates and safeguard their youths.

So here we have an issue between balancing rights and trying to quell youth crime in specific communities that experience it.

While the La Ronge curfew bylaw is supported by the Saskatchewan Northern Municipalities Act, there still remains the question of constitutionality.

Until a top court examines the issue of youth curfews, it’s going to remain a controversial issue.

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