Youth Criminal Justice Act

Youth Criminal Justice Act

Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is a Canadian statute which came into effect on April 1, 2003.

The YCJA replaced the Young Offenders Act, adopted by Parliament in 1982, in force since 1984, and amended in 1986, 1992, and 1995. The predecessor to the YOA was the 1908 Juvenile Delinquents Act.

Key Points of the YCJA

Definition of Youth

The YCJA governs the application of criminal and correctional law to those 12 and older but younger than 18 at the time of committing the offence. (Section 2 of the YCJA) The Criminal Code of Canada, PART I, General, 13, states "No person shall be convicted of an offence in respect of an act or omission on his or her part while that person was under the age of twelve years."

Rights of Youth

The preamble of the YCJA recognizes that youth have rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Extrajudicial Sanctions - Alternative Measures Programs

Non-violent, first-time offenders who are unlikely to re-offend can avoid trial in youth justice court by taking part in programs of extrajudicial sanctions.

These programs are designed to work outside the court system. Under the Young Offenders Act they were called "Alternative Measures Programs." These programs are intended to help youths learn from their mistakes before they develop criminal records. In some programs, the youth apologizes to the victim. In cases such as theft, he or she returns the stolen goods. Other programs include counseling, community service, drug and alcohol treatment, and special school programs. Community service is one of the most common programs; the youth is expected to work within the community for a specific number of hours and apologize to the victim.

Arrest and Detention

Youths may be arrested by the police for more serious offences. The rights expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to youths and adults.

Youths and adults have the right to obtain immediate legal counsel of their own choice upon arrest or detention. A youth is entitled to free legal representation, if needed. A youth also has the right to have his or her parent(s) or guardian(s) present during questioning. Upon arrest or detainment, these rights must be explained in clear and understandable language.

If the police have violated the above rights, the charges may be dismissed by a judge or any statements made to the police may be ruled inadmissable by the judge in court.

Detention and Bail

The Criminal Code gives youths and adults the same right to bail. However, the terms of release for youths are different from those for adults. Terms of release often include curfews and forbidden contact with victims and certain friends. Youths are usually released into the custody of parents or other responsible adults. Youths can be fingerprinted and photographed only when they have been charged with an indictable offense. If the youth is acquitted, these photos and fingerprints must be destroyed to protect the rights of the youth. Otherwise, these records are kept until the youth reaches the age of 18 and then they are destroyed.

Notice to Parents

Parents must be notified immediately or as soon as possible after their child is detained or arrested. Parents are encouraged to participate in all steps of the legal process and in some cases a judge may order the parents to attend hearings. If the parent does not appear they may be found in contempt of court.

Trial Procedures

Trials under The Youth Criminal Justice Act are held in either family court or youth justice court, depending on the province or territory. Trials for both adults and youths follow the same rules for evidence and are equally formal. Defence lawyers usually represent the youth, similar to adults, and youths also have access to legal aid.

Identity Disclosure

The YCJA allows the public and media to attend the trials of the youths and proceedings may be reported, but the identity of the youth can only be disclosed under special circumstances. The names of 14 to 17 year olds who are convicted of serious, violent crimes, such as murder or aggravated sexual assault, can be reported in the media. If the youth is considered to be dangerous, their picture can be published in the media along with their name. Their name may also be revealed if they are still "at large" (have not been arrested yet) for the benefit of the public's safety when the expectation is that they will be charged once police have tracked them down.

On January 1, 2008, the YCJA's Privacy clause was tested when several users of the Internet social networking site Facebook posted the identities of murdered Toronto teenager Stefanie Rengel and her accused killers in defiance of both the publication ban and the fact that the police had not yet received the consent of Rengel's family to release her name to the media. [ [ "Facebook proves problematic for police"] , "The Globe and Mail", January 5, 2008.] While police and Facebook staff attempted to comply with the privacy regulations by deleting such posts, they noted that it was difficult to effectively police the individual users who repeatedly republished the deleted information. [ [ "Angry Facebook Users Illegally Leaked the Names of Accused Underage Murderers"] , "Digital Journal", January 5, 2008.]

entencing as an adult

Under the Young Offenders Act youth aged over 14 could be transferred to adult court and their names published. Under the YCJA all youth aged 12-17 stay in Youth Court and their name is suppressed but if the youth is found guilty of a serious, violent crime or else is a repeat offender of such crimes, the youth court judge may sentence the youth as an adult and allow their name to be published.


Those found guilty in youth justice court were given "dispositions". These were similar to sentences given in adult court, but were not referred to in the same way. Under the new Youth Criminal Justice Act, the term disposition disappears and youths now receive "sentences" like adults.

As seen before, there are many options in sentencing youths. The judge imposing the sentence must balance the needs and concerns of the victim and the public with the needs and circumstances of the youth, and the sentence must also help the youth to take responsibility for breaking the law.

Similar to adult court, the judge would hold a sentencing hearing, where he/she would review the a pre-sentence report. This report is prepared by a probation officer or youth justice court worker and it provides a history of the youth as well as insight into the youth's character.


* [ Canadian Government Department of Justice Webpage for the YCJA] Retrieved July 19th 2008
* [ Canadian Government Department of Justice Webpage for the Young Offenders Act] (predecessor, repealed) Retrieved July 19th 2008

External links

* [ Complete Guide to Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act] Canadian Children's Rights Council
* [ Canada's Youth Correction Services Statistics] Canadian Children's Rights Council
* [ Youth Criminal Justice Act] from Department of Justice Canada.

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