For those of you in search of an understanding of what exactly the YCJA is, or what it even stands for, you’ve come to the right place!
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Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is the governing code in Canada for youth that came into effect in 2003. It covers the prosecution of your case if you are 12-17 years old at the time a criminal offence was committed. If you are charged after you turn 18, the YCJA is no longer applicable and you will be charged under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Youth Justice Court: In Canada, if you are between the ages of 12-17 at the time the crime was committed, your case will be tried at the Youth Justice Court.

Why does Canada have it? The YCJA focuses on:
  •  Helping to put young people who have committed crimes back into society,
  • Giving fair sentences consistent with the needs of young  people and their lower level of maturity,
  • Giving extra protection to young people, treating them fairly and respecting their right to privacy, and
  • Enforcing the law quickly to strengthen the link between the behaviour and its consequences. 
What if I am under 12 years old?

If you commit a crime and you are not 12 years old yet, the YCJA will not apply to you and you are not considered to be criminallyresponsible. Under Canadian law, persons under the age of 12 years cannot be said to form a criminal intent sufficient for criminal responsibility or a criminal record, if found guilty. The Criminal Code of Canada, section 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.” However, you may still face consequences, although not penal, for this behavior based on other laws, for example the Child and Family Services Act.
If I commit a crime, can I get a lawyer? If you are between the ages of 12-17 and have been charged with a crime, you do have a right to a lawyer.  Section 25 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act reads:
25.(1) A young person has the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to exercise that right personally, at any stage of proceedings against the young person and before and during any consideration of whether, instead of starting or continuing judicial proceedings against the young person under this Act, to use an extrajudicial sanction to deal with the young person.

(2) Every young person who is arrested or detained shall, on being arrested or detained, be advised without delay by the arresting officer or the officer in charge, as the case may be, of the eight to retain and instruct counsel, and be given an opportunity to obtain counsel.

This means that youths who are arrested or detained for any reason must be told of their right and be given the opportunity to obtain a lawyer before any lawful procedures are conducted.

Will my parents find out if I commit a crime? 

Under section 26(1) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the officer in charge of the arrest or detention of a youth must give notice to a parent either orally or in writing as soon as they possibly can.

Will my classmates find out if I commit a crime? 
Section 110 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act outlines privacy in relation to the identity of young offenders, access to their criminal records, and disclosure of their personal or trial information. Trial information can be published in media or print but identifying information (ie your name) about young offenders cannot be. 


To take a look at the Youth Criminal Justice Act, click here
For more information on YCJA and your rights as a youth, check out our legal information pamphlets: 

Know Your Rights: http://www.jfcy.org/ycj.html 


If you are a youth charged with a crime, you can call JFCY at 416.920.1633 or 1.866.999.5329 to speak with a lawyer.


This blog post was written by Lauren Grossman, a first-year law student at U of T who is volunteering at JFCY through her law school’s Pro Bono Students Canada program. All info was reviewed by a JFCY staff lawyer.