Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act

  1. Legal Framework for Youth Offenders in Scarborough
  2. Youth Criminal Justice Principles
  3. Special Considerations in the YCJA Legal Process
  4. Sentencing Considerations in YCJA Convictions
  5. The Importance of Securing Legal Counsel

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, the country’s annual number of youth offender arrests experienced an uptick in 2022, breaking more than 15 years of consecutive declines. Canadian police charged 29,790 youth with criminal offences in 2022, a 5,000-plus increase over 2021 youth crime case numbers. Despite the rise, the figure still represents a 31% decline from the 93,000-plus youth arrested in 2003, when legislators enacted a new young offenders act in Canada.

In Ontario, police charged over 9,000 youth offenders in 2022, almost 2,000 more than in 2021 but still 26% less than the nearly 34,000 youths charged in 2003. Of the 2022 provincial youth offenders, police arrested 2,813 in the Greater Toronto Area.

Statistics Canada’s level of detail does not provide information on how many young offenders Scarborough police arrest every year. However, with practice as youth criminal defence lawyers, we know that youth offenders contribute to Scarborough’s crime rate. Let’s examine how Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) addresses young offenders and youth crime and sets parameters for youth sentencing.

Legal Framework for Youth Offenders in Scarborough

Under Canada’s youth law, young offenders in Scarborough and throughout the country face a different criminal justice system than adults when they commit a criminal offence. Youth offenders are subject to prosecution for the same offences as adults. Still in addressing youth crimes, the YCJA modifies the criminal justice system from the initial police interaction to youth court and sentencing guidelines.

The Act applies to any offender between the ages of 12 and 18 and provides them with legal rights and special protections beyond that offered to adults charged with a criminal offence. These expanded rights and special protections include:

  • Right to legal representation at every step of the criminal justice process.
  • Immediate parental notification and parental right to attend all proceedings, including bail hearings.
  • Restrictions on the admissibility of youth statements or confessions.
  • Right to participate in and be informed about all elements of the official proceedings.
  • Higher thresholds for court-ordered pre-trial detention.
  • Greater flexibility in sentencing if convicted (with incarceration deemed a last resort).
  • Safeguards for the offender’s privacy.

Children under 12 cannot be charged or prosecuted under Canadian law because they are legally below the age of criminal responsibility. However, those under 12 who commit serious offences usually face some government intervention designed to rehabilitate them and encourage future lawful behaviour.

Youth Criminal Justice Principles

The YCJA is framed by a Declaration of Principles that guides how the law should be interpreted, with an emphasis on balancing public protection with the needs of the youthful offender. These principles are based on the premise that youth are presumed to be less morally blameworthy than adults. While offending youth should be held accountable, it needs to be done in a way that accounts for their reduced maturity and greater dependency.

Noting that the Act should “be liberally construed,” the principles stress that youth offenders should be held accountable through measures that balance the seriousness of the offence with the offender’s level of maturity. Fair and proportionate accountability should promote the “rehabilitation and reintegration” of young offenders. It should also support crime prevention by referring youth offenders to community programs or agencies capable of addressing the underlying causes of the offending behaviour. Other principles include:

  • Encouraging the offender’s respect for societal values and the “repair of harm done to victims and the community.”
  • Timely action by the criminal justice system to “reinforce the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences.”
  • Meaningful criminal justice system action tailored to the offender’s distinct needs and development level.
  • Involving family, community, social organizations or other organizations in the rehabilitation and reintegration as appropriate.

Special Considerations in the YCJA Legal Process

Based on the YCJA principles, youth who commit first-time, non-violent offences are often eligible for extrajudicial measures that can negate the need for formal youth court procedures. In fact, the YCJA deems such extrajudicial measures as “often the most appropriate and effective way to address youth crime” based on their timeliness and ability to hold the offender accountable. Extrajudicial measures include, but are not limited to:

  • A simple verbal warning from the police.
  • A written caution by police.
  • A written caution from the Crown prosecutor.
  • Referrals to counselling, community programs, or other resources.

Youth offenders arrested for an indictable offence, such as manslaughter, aggravated assault, or burglary, are usually not eligible for extrajudicial measures. However, in some cases, a skilled youth lawyer may be able to convince the Crown to offer a court-approved extrajudicial sanction. This option suspends court action based on compliance with specific terms and conditions. Under this scenario, the youth offender takes responsibility for the offence by successfully performing volunteer work, compensating the victim, and/or participating in specialized programs. Failure to comply with extrajudicial sanction terms results in the resumption of court proceedings against the offender.

Sentencing Considerations in YCJA Convictions

To promote rehabilitation and reintegration into society, if a youth offender is tried and convicted in youth court, the Act requires the sentence to be:

  • Less severe than an adult would receive for the same offence.
  • Similar to sentences handed down to other youth for the same crime.
  • Proportionate to the degree of responsibility by the offender and the seriousness of the offence.
  • The least restrictive alternative.
  • Most likely to promote rehabilitation.
  • Likely to encourage the offender’s acknowledgement and responsibility for the offence’s harm done to society and/or victims.

Based on YCJA principles, youth court judges tend to reserve custodial sentences for violent offenders and serious repeat offenders. Those sentenced to confinement in a youth facility typically face a maximum two-year sentence, except those convicted of murder or other serious offences, who face up to 10 years’ incarceration.

Even for convictions that warrant incarceration, judges will often sentence offenders to deferred or open custody. Offenders serve deferred custody in the community under house arrest or curfew terms. Open custody places offenders in group homes, where they are closely monitored and must follow strict living conditions and rules. Other sentencing options include:

  • Formal reprimand from the judge.
  • Absolute or conditional discharge (used if the judge believes the offender has “learned their lesson” and represents limited risk of reoffending).
  • Counselling and/or participation in youth support programs.
  • Fine (maximum of $1,000).
  • Restitution/compensation to the victim.
  • Personal service to the victim.
  • Community service.
  • Probation

The Importance of Securing Legal Counsel

Youth law is a complex and nuanced component of the criminal justice system that is best navigated with the skills and experience of a criminal law lawyer who has defended youth offenders. A competent youth criminal lawyer can determine whether they can successfully defend the charges in youth court or, barring that option, know how to work with provisions within the YCJA to mitigate the severity of the charges to deliver the most favourable outcome. If the police have arrested you as a young offender in Scarborough, criminal lawyers at Vilkhov Law stand ready to help you successfully navigate the intricacies of Canada’s youth law.

By |2024-03-04T18:25:22+00:00March 4th, 2024|Uncategorized|

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