An Introduction to the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect in 2003. It governs the prosecution of youths for criminal offences in Canada. It applies to young persons between the ages of 12 and 17. In Canada, a person is legally considered to be an adult at the age of 18. Canadian law treats young people differently than adults because of their level of development and maturity, but it also recognizes that young persons should be made accountable for their actions for public safety reasons. One of the underlying goals of the Act is to promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of young people back into their families and communities.

The majority of young people who commit crimes are either non-violent or first time offenders. They will generally be given alternative options than going through the court process. “Extrajudicial Measures and Extrajudicial Sanctions” are an alternative to the formal court process designed to help the youth focus on repairing the harm done to the victim and the community. Such options may include police warnings or diversion programs. Young people who have offended may also be placed into programs that will help address their problems and may also provide an opportunity to make restitution to the community. If a young person does end up in court, his or her sentence may involve doing some form of community service or doing something for the victim to make up for the crime.

Serious violent crimes occur when someone gets hurt as a result of a crime or if there is a resinous risk of someone being hurt. For example, a robbery in which no one was injured could be considered “violent” if a gun, or a replica of a gun, was used as a threat.

An adult sentence may be given to a youth 14-17 years old in several situations:

  • The youth has been convicted of one of four serious violent offences;
  • The youth has a pattern of convictions for violent offences; or
  • If the offence is one for which an adult could receive more than two years in jail.

This means that when a youth aged 14 or older commits attempted murder, murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or has committed three serious violent offences, an adult sentence shall be imposed if the youth is found guilty. A trial will always be held in youth court.

Although the names of young offenders may not be published by the media, the Act does states that the media may publish the name of a youth who has been convicted of a serious violent crime and has received an adult sentence.

If you have any questions about the Youth Criminal Justice Act, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.