Although Canada’s Criminal Justice System does not distinguish between what acts amount to criminal offences for Adults and Young Persons, the law governing those under eighteen does differ in a variety of important ways. In particular, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) sets out specific rules governing how young persons are to be treated differently both as it relates to Criminal Procedure and Sentencing due to their reduced level of maturity. Specifically, the YCJA shifts the focus away from punishment to a stronger emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration of Young Persons and attempts to limit the situations where sentences of imprisonment are available. Nowhere is this clearer than in the YCJA’s Preamble and declaration of principle found it section 3 of the Act, which read as follows:
- WHEREAS members of society share a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and the needs of young persons and to guide them into adulthood.
- WHEREAS communities, families, parents and others concerned with the development of young persons should, through multi-disciplinary approaches, take reasonable steps to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, to respond to the needs of young persons, and to provide guidance and support to those at risk of committing crimes.
- WHEREAS information about youth justice, youth crime and the effectiveness of measures taken to address youth crime should be publicly available.
- WHEREAS Canada is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and recognizes that young persons have rights and freedoms, including those stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights, and have special guarantees of their rights and freedoms.
- AND WHEREAS Canadian society should have a youth criminal justice system that commands respect, takes into account the interests of victims, fosters responsibility and ensures accountability through meaningful consequences and effective rehabilitation and reintegration, and that reserves its most serious intervention for the most serious crimes and reduces the over-reliance on incarceration for non-violent young persons.
NOW, THEREFORE, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
3. (1) (a) The YCJA is intended to:
(i) prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person’s behavior
(ii) rehabilitate young persons who commit offences and reintegrate them into society, and ensure that a young person is subject to a meaningful consequences for his or her offence
In order to promote the long-term protection of the public.
As noted, both in the preamble and declaration of principle, the YCJA ‘s central focus is on responding to the needs of young persons by providing guidance and support to those at risk of coming in conflict with the law. The YCJA’s aim is to foster responsibility in Young Persons by ensuring they are accountable for their actions through meaningful consequences by employing sentences that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration. To this end, the law governing accused persons under the age of eighteen reserves the most serious intervention (i.e. jail) for only the most serious crimes and attempts to reduce the over-reliance on incarceration for non-violent offences.
There are very specific and detailed procedures that outline how young persons are to be dealt with in the criminal justice system and, for this reason, it is important that your lawyer is well versed the provisions within the YCJA. Daniel Michael has extensive experience with the provisions of the YCJA and guiding young people through the criminal process. In fact, a majority of Mr. Michael’s clients are under the age of eighteen (18) and he has focused a majority of his community outreach and continuing legal education on issues surrounding the YCJA.
If you have any questions relating to the act or process, please do not hesitate to contact our offices by clicking HERE.
Special Considerations that Apply to Young Persons
Young people have the legal right to be heard in court and to participate in the process. Although Parents must be informed of measures or actions involving their children and encouraged to support them, the YCJA is clear that Young People have the right to make the ultimate decisions with respect to charges they are facing. As a result, although a parent may express an opinion or offer advice to a Young Person, the person charged (regardless of their age) must be the one making the decisions concerning their case.
Does the YCJA apply to me?
If the offence that was allegedly committed occurred while the young person was 12-17, the YCJA applies. To be clear, it is the act itself that defines whether you fall under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and not your age at the time you are arrested. It is also worth noting that, although you may not be charged criminally if you are under the age of 12, you may still be subject to other consequences aside from those found under the Criminal Code of Canada and Youth Criminal Justice Act.
What are my rights if I am arrested under the YCJA?
First and foremost, you have the right to know why you are under arrest and you have the right to get and be represented by a lawyer, without delay.
- The police should also inform you as various other rights, including but not limited to:
- The right to not make a statement, as anything you say, may be used in court against you;
- The right to talk to a lawyer and your parent(s) or another adult before you make any statements; and
- The right to have a lawyer and your parent(s) (or another adult) with you if the police question or interrogate you, whether or not you decide to make a statement.
- It should also be understood that the police are required by law to notify your parent(s) of the charges you face, regardless of whether or not you want them to.