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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.
In Alberta, the age of majority is 18 years. This means that your parents or guardian have some responsibilities for your actions until you reach that age. This topic will try to answer questions about the laws relating to causing property damage.
Even though you are a minor, you may be held responsible for any wrong doing you intentionally or negligently commit. This means that a person you harm may sue you in Civil Court. If that person wins, the Civil Court will order you to pay him or her damages, that is, money in compensation. If you commit a criminal wrong, you can be prosecuted in Youth Court if you are between 12 and 18 years. If you are found guilty, you will have a Youth Court criminal record and will receive a Youth Sentence. The Youth Criminal Record will be in place for the length of that Sentence, plus an access period following the last date of Sentence. This means that you may end up being over the age of 18 years and still have an open Youth Record if the access period has not finished. Some criminal convictions can result in a jail sentence although this does not usually happen in young offenders’ cases unless the young person‘s offences meet guidelines in Youth Justice Legislation that allow the Judge to consider jail as a possible sentence.
As a rule, your parent or guardian is not responsible for your wrong‑doing, but there are some exceptions. If you cause injury to someone by using a thing which is dangerous or capable of causing danger to others, your parents may be held partly or completely responsible. They may be held responsible if they did not supervise you in a reasonable way, or if they were negligent in letting you do something that could hurt someone else. For example, if you drove a snowmobile into someone, your parents may be held liable. A snowmobile, like an automobile, is considered dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced, unlicensed person. If you are 10 years old and your parents let you use a pellet gun, unsupervised, and you shot and injured a playmate, your parents may be held responsible. The Courts may find it was negligent of your parents to trust you with a dangerous weapon. However, your parents might not be held responsible if they had locked away the gun and had forbidden you to use it in their absence. If you disobeyed their orders and broke into the locked storage place to take the gun without proper permission, you alone may be held responsible.
There are some laws which hold parents responsible for damage caused by their children but generally, you are held accountable for your own actions. If you damage someone’s property, you can be criminally charged or you can be sued for damages in Civil Court to pay for the property, or both. If the person whose property is damaged wins in Civil Court they may collect by seizing any assets or wages you earn after you turn 18 years old.