Introduction to Youth Justice (2:I)
A. Recent History
As of April 1, 2003, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, SC 2002, c 1 [“YCJA”] came into effect and replaced the previous Young Offenders Act. The YCJA represents the culmination of nearly a century of evolution in how the legal system understands young offenders. The YCJA recognizes that youths have rights under the Charter, the Canadian Bill of Rights S.C. 1960, c 44, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [“UNCRC”], which Canada signed and ratified in the early 1990s.
The YCJA focuses on three key objectives to better protect the public:
- preventing youth crime by addressing underlying causes;
- meaningful consequences for offences; and
- increased focus on rehabilitation and reintegration for youth returning to the community (YCJA, s 3).
The YCJA also encourages judges to impose non-custodial sentences on young persons who are found guilty under the Act where it is consistent with the general principles. This does not mean that it seeks to prohibit custodial sentences, but rather to ensure that custodial sentences are the last option.
A significant change is the inclusion of the vVictims play a significant’ role in the process. While victims have no rights per se as they are not a party to criminal proceedings, the YCJA holds that victims will be heard and treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect for their privacy, and be minimally inconvenienced. Also, consequences will include educating the offender about the impact of the crime, and focusing on repairing the damage or paying back society in a constructive fashion. In some respects, B.C. legislation dealing with victims of crime has already incorporated a number of these principles, particularly in the Victims of Crime Act, RSBC 1996, c 478. In 2015, Parliament enacted the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, SC 2015, c 13, s 2 (“CVBR”). The Act guarantees victims of crime various rights, including the right to information about the criminal justice system, their rights as victims of crime, and their right to have their security and privacy considered by the appropriate authorities in the criminal justice system. For more information on victims’ rights, and resources for victims of crime see Chapter 4: Victims.
The YCJA was amended by Bill C-10 (“The Safe Streets and Communities Act”) on October 23, 2012. One change to the YCJA in Bill C-10 is that individual deterrence and denunciation of unlawful conduct were added as a sentencing principle. It also sets out that youths are presumed to have diminished moral culpability or blameworthiness in comparison to adult offenders. Furthermore, Bill C-10 states that the youth justice system is intended to protect the public by holding young persons convicted of offences accountable through using proportionate measures, promoting rehabilitation and reintegration, and preventing crime by directing youths to programs that address underlying causes of their actions. Bill C-10 also sets out definitions for a “serious offence” and a “violent offence” which are broader than previous definitions given in the case law.
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