Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Canadian criminal justice system allows youth to be treated differently from adults in most situations when they are charged with a criminal offence. If a person is between the ages of 12 and 17 and are charged with a criminal offence, the prosecution of the case must follow the Youth Criminal Justice Act.


Overview of Youth Criminal Justice

Youth Criminal Justice Act Lawyer in Toronto Ontario

When young people become entangled in the criminal justice system, they are treated separately from adults. For over a century, beginning in 1908 with the Juvenile Delinquents Act, evolving to the Young Offenders Act in 1984, and finally to the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) in 2003, Parliament has deemed that the adult court system is largely not appropriate for youth accused of crimes. The YCJA administers the criminal justice system for individuals between the ages of 12 and 17. Individuals under the age of 12 cannot be convicted of a criminal offence in Canada.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act

The YCJA is not simply focused on accountability. It also emphasizes rehabilitation and reintegration; the YCJA seeks to address the underlying behavior, pre-existing conditions or circumstances that led to the offending behavior in the first place.

Often, a young person is required to admit their guilt of an offence to participate in extrajudicial sanctions. Parents, guardians and youth must exercise extra caution in the admission of guilt simply to benefit from sanctions. The prospect of extrajudicial sanctions and lower sentencing outcomes should not be leveraged to pressure a young person into pleading guilty to an offence that he did not commit.

Young offenders, like individuals in the adult court system, have a legal right to a trial. In certain cases, the Crown may apply to have a young person tried before the court as an adult. If the case is made for a young offender to appear before an adult court, an adult sentence can be imposed in some cases.

Given that youth have their whole lives in front of them, it is sensible to hire a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with YCJA matters to ensure better outcomes for youth who run into problems with the law.

Under the YCJA, young people are entitled to special provisions for retaining legal counsel. When a young person is denied Legal Aid, he may nevertheless be eligible to obtain a court order for a Legal Aid certificate to hire a lawyer.

Please call Caramanna, Friedberg LLP at (416) 924-5969 for further information about how we can help you or a young person you care about.  

Frequently Asked Questions

The YCJA differs from the Criminal Code in several ways. For example:

  • Under the YCJA, young people are afforded greater protection. For example, a young person is entitled to have his or her parent(s) or legal counsel present during a police interview;
  • Young persons are entitled to special provisions for retaining legal counsel. When a young person is denied Legal Aid, he may nevertheless be eligible to obtain a court order for a Legal Aid certificate to hire a lawyer;
  • The courts look to incarceration as a very last resort with young persons.
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There have been three different pieces of youth legislation in Canadian history:

  • the Juvenile Delinquents Act
  • the Young Offenders Act; and
  • the Youth Criminal Justice Act (current legislation)

In 2012, numerous amendments were made to the YCJA. For example, since the amendments, a young person under the age of 18 at the time of sentencing must be placed in a youth detention centre.

Also of note, the provisions of the YCJA relating to pre-trial detention (where a young person is in custody awaiting resolution of their matter) were amended with the aim of ensuring that youth be released and managed in the community where possible. The amendments created a new test for bail (different from the grounds of detention which are assessed for in adult matters at a bail hearing). Since 2012, a young person may be detained where:

  • the youth has been charged with a serious offence (an offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for five years or more) or has a history of either outstanding charges or findings of guilt;
  • one of the following grounds exists:
    • there is a substantial likelihood that, if released, the youth will not appear in court when required;
    • detention is necessary for public protection, having regard to the circumstances, including whether there is a substantial likelihood that the young person will, if released, commit a serious offence; or
    • if the youth has been charged with a serious offence and neither (i) nor (ii) applies (i.e., detention is not necessary to ensure that the youth appears in court or to protect the public), but there are exceptional circumstances that justify detention as necessary to maintain confidence in the administration of justice; and
  • releasing the youth with conditions would not be sufficient to address the court's concern about releasing the youth.
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The maximum length of sentences under the YCJA is 2 to 10 years imprisonment. However, the emphasis in youth matters is on Extrajudicial Sanctions or EJS. EJS are out of court measures used to hold a young person accountable for their criminal conduct.

There are various types of extrajudicial sanctions, including:

  • Writing an apology letter;
  • Writing an essay;
  • Community service hours of volunteer work;
  • Compensating the victim; and
  • Attending specialized programs.

The following offences are ineligible for EJS:

  • murder, manslaughter, infanticide, criminal negligence causing death
  • driving offences causing death or bodily harm
  • aggravated assault
  • simple impaired driving or driving with a prohibited blood alcohol concentration or refusing to provide a breath sample
  • offences involving firearms
  • criminal organization offences
  • terrorism offences
  • kidnapping
  • voyeurism
  • child abuse and child luring
  • home invasions
  • human trafficking offences
  • robbery
  • sexual assault cause bodily harm
  • sexual interference and exploitation, invitation to sexual touching and incest
  • any offences where the Attorney General's consent was obtained to initiate proceedings.
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The YCJA is not simply focused on accountability. It also emphasizes rehabilitation and reintegration; the YCJA seeks to address the underlying behaviour, pre-existing conditions or circumstances that led to the offending behaviour in the first place.

The YCJA states that special procedures must be implemented within the criminal justice system for youth to ensure that young people are treated fairly and that their rights are protected. It also stresses the need for timely intervention to reinforce the connection between the offence and its consequences.

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The YCJA administers the criminal justice system for individuals between the ages of 12 and 17. Individuals under the age of 12 cannot be convicted of a criminal offence in Canada.

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