Law Talk: What you need to know about the Youth Criminal Justice Act

At one time they were treated no different from any adult charged with a crime. Later, they were labelled “juvenile delinquents” and treated according to a special set of rules. Today, a person in Canada between ages 12 and 18 who is criminally charged will be prosecuted according to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This is a special piece of legislation, creating a distinct justice system for young offenders. The aim is to rehabilitate young offenders back into society, while holding them accountable for their actions and sentencing them according to their circumstances. Without undue delay, here are a few things you should know about the YCJA.

Minimum Age
In Canada, only those 12 years and over can be held criminally responsible. This means that children under 12 will not be prosecuted for committing a criminal offence. Those 18 and over will be prosecuted as adults.

Youth Sentences
The courts are subject to specific principles when sentencing youth, once again aimed at holding young offenders accountable for their actions and reintegrating them into society, all while protecting the public at the same time. Sentences must be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime committed and should be consistent with sentences handed out for the same crime in the same community. A sentence of more than two years cannot be imposed for an offence, and a sentence for consecutive offences cannot exceed seven years, unless an adult sentence is imposed.

Adult Sentences
The YCJA allows a judge to hand out an adult sentence, where a youth over the age of 13 has been convicted of a most serious crime. The Crown must be seeking an adult sentence and must prove that a youth sentence would not be sufficiently long to hold the young offender accountable for his or her actions. If a judge determines that a youth sentence would be long enough to hold the individual accountable, he or she cannot impose an adult sentence.

Protection of Identity
You will often notice that accused minors are referred to by names such as “A.M.” in the media. This is because it is forbidden to publish the name or any identifying information of an accused minor, in order to avoid stigmatization and lifetime labelling of the accused as a criminal. Exceptions may be made, however, such as when a young accused has been convicted and handed an adult sentence, when an accused minor is being apprehended by the police and poses a public danger or when a young accused person turns 18 and wishes to release his or her name.

This column provides legal information only and is produced by the students of Community Legal Services and Pro Bono Students Canada (UWO). The information is accurate as of the date of publication. Laws change frequently so we caution readers from relying on this information if some time has passed since publication. If you need legal advice please contact a lawyer, community legal clinic, Justice Net at 1-866- 919-3219 or the Lawyer Referral Service at 1-900-565-4LRS. You can contact Community Legal Services to book an appointment to discuss your legal issue or mediation services. Please call us at 519- 661-3352 with any inquires or to book an appointment.

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