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Youth Criminal Justice – Application of the YCJA

What approach does the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) take with young people?

The approach taken by the YCJA is explained in the “Preamble” and a “Declaration of Principle.” You should know about this approach because it will affect how you are treated by the police, the Youth Justice Court, and others involved in the system set up by the YCJA.

The content of the Preamble includes statements similar to the following:

  • everyone shares the responsibility in addressing the challenges and needs of young people as they grow up,
  • steps should be taken to see the reasons why a young person has committed a crime,
  • young people have special rights that need to be protected,
  • the youth criminal justice system should:
  • consider the interests of victims;
  • have meaningful consequences;
  • work to try to stop people from committing further crimes; and
  • cut down the use of custody for non-violent crimes.

The content of the Declaration of Principle includes statements similar to the following:

The purpose of the youth criminal justice system is to:

  • prevent crime by addressing the challenges and needs of young people that commit crimes;
  • help young people who have committed crimes and put them back in society; and
  • ensure that young people receive meaningful consequences for their offences.

The youth criminal justice system will put more focus 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 low 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.

While being fair to the young person, the actions taken should:

  • reinforce respect for societal values;
  • encourage young people to repair the harm done to the victims;
  • be meaningful to the person given his or her needs and level of development, and involve the parents, extended family and community where possible in the young person’s return to society; and
  • respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences and respond to the needs of aboriginal people and young people with special requirements.

Special considerations that apply in respect of actions against young people, in particular:

  • young people have rights and freedoms in their own right, such as the right to be heard in court and to participate in the process, other than the decision to prosecute;
  • victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the least amount of inconvenience as a result of their involvement with the youth criminal justice system; and
  • parents should be informed of measures or actions involving their children and they are encouraged to support them in addressing their children’s behaviour.

Who does the Youth Criminal Justice Act apply to? 

The YCJA applies to all young persons who are 12 to 17 years old at the time they are said to have broken a federal law. The YCJA does not apply to offences covered under the laws of your provinces.

What if I am under 12?

Although the YCJA will not apply to you if you are under 12, you must remember that there may be consequences for illegal behaviour.  For example, if you have stolen from a store you may not be allowed to go there in the future.

Also, although you will not be held criminally responsible, there are other laws (for example, under the Child and Family Services Act or other child protection or mental health laws) that could have other consequences.

Does the Youth Criminal Justice Act apply to all laws? 

No. The system only applies to laws passed by the federal government. The most important of these are the criminal and drug laws.

What about other offences such as careless driving, drinking under age, or trespassing?

These are examples of offences that are covered by provincial laws not federal laws. Each province will make sure there are still consequences for young people who commit these offences, but they will not be handled under the YCJA.

What about truancy?

The YCJA does not apply to truancy (absence from school without a good reason), unless you break a probation or bail order that has a condition that you must attend school.

Does this mean that nothing will happen to me if I do not go to school?

No. If you are under the legal age for leaving school, most provinces will have some consequences for your truancy.  For example, you may have to see a counsellor and you might be taken to court under provincial law.

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