Respecting the Rights of Youth in Custody
A youth at Burnaby Youth Custody Services contacted us to complain that he had no privacy during a telephone call to his lawyer. The youth complained that he had called his lawyer from a telephone on the unit. He said that during the call, a staff person stood about two feet away and refused to move away when the youth requested privacy. In addition, the youth said that the telephone was directly across the hallway from the staff office. We investigated whether BYCS had acted in a way that was contrary to law in not permitting the youth to make a private phone call to his lawyer. Under the Youth Justice Regulation, a youth custody centre can monitor certain telephone calls by a youth. However, calls to "privileged persons", including lawyers, the Ombudsperson and the Representative for Children and Youth, are exempt from any kind of monitoring or recording.
Given that privacy during communications with privileged persons is a statutory requirement, and given the fundamental importance of solicitor-client privilege in the justice system, we expanded our investigation to include the other two youth custody centres in BC, Prince George Youth Custody Services (PGYCS) and Victoria Youth Custody Services (VYCS).
In the course of our investigation, we conducted site visits to each of the centres. We observed that the telephones on the units were open to the rest of the room and the telephones in most of the units at BYCS were located directly across from the staff office. In response to the specific concerns raised by the complainant about the staff member standing close by while the call was made, BYCS explained that these telephones had come equipped with dial pads and staff needed to keep a close eye on youth using the telephone to ensure that they did not contact victims or other unauthorized persons.
The location of the telephones in each of the centres did not provide sufficient privacy for youths communicating with privileged persons. In addition, we looked at whether the youth justice policy manual provided sufficient guidance to staff regarding the importance of ensuring privacy during privileged communications. In particular, youths were given privacy during such telephone calls only if requested. We were concerned that youth were not adequately exercising this right to privacy, and were of the view that a youth in custody should not have to request private communication with privileged persons.
In addition to the site visits, we spoke with the directors of the centres and discussed our investigation with the Senior Executive Director of Youth Custody Services (YCS). Following consultation with our Office, YCS took steps to ensure that all youth in custody have access to a private location to make telephone calls to privileged persons. Youth in each of the centres now have access to a soundproof booth in which to make privileged telephone calls. These booths are located either on the unit or in a common area. As an interim measure before these booths were constructed, the centres gave youth access to private offices for such calls.
In addition, YCS developed and implemented a provincial policy which sets out a youth's right to private communication with privileged persons, confirms that telephone calls to privileged persons cannot be monitored under any circumstances, and requires each of the centres to develop procedures to accommodate such telephone calls in a timely fashion. Importantly, any privileged call is now conducted in private, whether or not a youth requests privacy. The centres have updated their youth orientation guides to reflect this new policy.
We would like to acknowledge the youth whose complaint brought this important issue to our attention and whose actions benefited all young people who are held in custody in British Columbia. As a result of the steps taken by Youth Justice to address the concerns raised we consider the complaint to be resolved and we closed our file.