Youth Criminal Justice Act
The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which was proclaimed in force on 1 April 2003, replaces the Young Offenders Act. It applies to a young person, or youth, who is or who appears to be 12 years old or older, but who is less than 18 years old and who is alleged to have committed an offence as a youth. The Act creates a separate criminal justice system for young persons and thus they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system established by the Criminal Code. A youth justice court, subject to the Contraventions Act and the National Defence Act, has exclusive jurisdiction to deal with offences committed by young persons.
The youth criminal justice system is, according to the Act, intended to:
i) prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person's offending behaviour;
ii) rehabilitate young persons who commit offences and reintegrate them into society, and;
iii) ensure that a young person is subject to meaningful consequences for his or her offence, in order to promote the long-term protection of the public.
The Act emphasizes rehabilitation and reintegration, fair and proportionate accountability, enhanced procedural protection and timely intervention and enforcement. The Act also lists several special considerations, namely that young persons have the right to participate in the process beyond participating in the decision to prosecute; victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy, and should be given an opportunity to participate in the proceedings; and parents should be informed of measures and proceedings involving their children and encouraged to support them in addressing the offence.
The goals of the Act, along with its underlying principles, are essentially the same as the goals and principles set out in the Young Offenders Act. However, the Youth Criminal Justice Act adds a specifically defined role for victims that did not exist in the Young Offenders Act.
In keeping with its principles and goals the Act allows for extrajudicial measures, including extrajudicial sanctions, that can be used to address offences committed by young persons without resorting to judicial proceedings. Extrajudicial measures are simply defined as measures other than judicial proceedings. Before commencing judicial proceedings police officers are required to consider whether extrajudicial measures would be more appropriate, such as issuing a warning, administering a caution or referring the young person to a community program or agency.
An extrajudicial sanction can be used if a young person cannot adequately be dealt with by a warning, caution or referral. Conditions on the use of extrajudicial sanctions include: the young person must consent to the use of sanctions; the young person must accept responsibility for the act that forms the basis of the offence; and the sanction must be part of a program of sanctions authorized by a provincial government or, in the case of the territories, by the Government of Canada.
The use of extrajudicial sanctions does not preclude judicial proceedings, but a court must dismiss charges if it is satisfied that the young person has totally complied with the terms of the sanctions and can dismiss the charge if it is satisfied that the young person has partially complied with the terms of the sanctions and if continuing with the prosecution would be unfair.
Upon conviction, a youth court can sentence a young person to custody but only if:
i) the young person has committed a violent offence;
ii) the young person has failed to comply with a non-custodial sentence;
iii) the young person has committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than 2 years and has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt under the Act or the Young Offenders Act, or;
iv) in cases where the young person has committed an indictable offence, the aggravating circumstances of the offence are such that a non-custodial sentence would be inadequate.
Some of the other sentencing options available to a youth court are to:
i) issue a reprimand;
ii) order the payment of compensation;
iii) order the provision of personal or community service;
iv) order a young person into an intensive support and supervision program, subject to the approval of the provincial government;
v) order a young person to serve a period of time in custody and another period of time under community supervision.
Generally, the time period over which a young person must serve a custody/supervision order cannot exceed 2 years. However, in the case of more serious offences such as first- and second-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault, manslaughter and any serious violent offence for which an adult would be liable to a term of imprisonment of more than 2 years, the custody/supervision order can exceed 2 years. For first-degree murder the period cannot exceed 10 years, with 6 years in custody, and for second-degree murder the period cannot exceed 7 years, with 4 years in custody. The time in custody can be extended upon application by an attorney general. For the other offences the period cannot exceed 3 years.
A youth court must also impose intensive rehabilitation where a young person has been convicted of first- or second-degree murder. A court can impose intensive rehabilitation where a young person has been convicted of a serious violent offence if the young person suffers from a mental illness or disorder, a psychological disorder or an emotional disturbance, if a treatment plan is believed to reduce the risk of a young person committing another serious violent offence and if a province has a program available and has determined that the program would be appropriate.
Generally, young persons who have been sentenced to a period of custody must be held separate from adults who are in custody. If a young person is 20 years old at the time of sentencing, then he or she must serve the period of custody in an adult facility. At the age of 18 a young person can be transferred to an adult facility.
The Young Offenders Act did not have provisions allowing for intensive rehabilitative custody but the duration of custody/supervision orders have remained the same.