Criminal Offences under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (2:III)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on July 18, 2021.

A. Applicable Age

A “Child” is defined in section 2(1) of the YCJA as "a person who is, or, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, appears to be less than 12 years old". The CC states in section 13 that no person under the age of twelve years will be convicted of an offence.

A “Young person” is defined in section 2(1) of the YCJA as "a person who is, or, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, appears to be, 12 years old or older, but less than 18 years old".

Section 14(5) states that the YCJA applies to "persons 18 years old or older who are alleged to have committed an offence while a young person". Section 14(4) states that "extrajudicial measures taken or judicial proceedings commenced against a young person" under the Act may be continued "after the person attains the age of 18 years".

B. Applicable Court

Under section 2(5) of the Provincial Court Act, RSBC 1996, c 379, the Provincial Court is designated as the Youth Justice Court for the purposes of the YCJA, and a Provincial Court judge is a Youth Justice Court judge. The superior court of British Columbia has concurrent jurisdiction as a Youth Justice Court where the Crown is seeking an adult sentence for a young person.

C. Declaration of Principle

The YCJA contains a declaration of principle. The principles are set out in section 3 of the YCJA and must be used to interpret the entire Act.

  1. The youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by:
    1. holding young persons accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person,
    2. promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons who have committed offences, and
    3. supporting the prevention of crime by referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community to address the circumstances underlying their offending behaviour.
  2. The criminal justice system for young persons must be separate from that of adults, must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability, and must emphasize the following:
    1. rehabilitation and reintegration,
    2. fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity,
    3. enhanced procedural protection to ensure that young persons are treated fairly and that their rights, including their right to privacy, are protected,
    4. timely intervention that reinforces the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences, and
    5. the promptness and speed with which persons responsible for enforcing this Act must act, given young persons’ perception of time.
  3. Within the limits of fair and proportionate accountability, the measures taken against young persons who commit offences should:
    1. reinforce respect for societal values,
    2. encourage the repair of harm done to victims and the community,
    3. be meaningful for the individual young person given their needs and level of development and, where appropriate, involve the parents, the extended family, the community and social or other agencies in the young person’s rehabilitation and reintegration, and
    4. respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences and respond to the needs of aboriginal young persons and of young persons with special requirements.
  4. Special considerations apply in respect of proceedings against young persons. In particular,
    1. young persons have rights and freedoms in their own right, such as a right to be heard in the course of and to participate in the processes, other than the decision to prosecute, that lead to decisions that affect them, and young persons have special guarantees of their rights and freedoms,
    2. victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the minimum degree of inconvenience as a result of their involvement with the youth criminal justice system,
    3. victims should be provided with information about the proceedings and given an opportunity to participate and be heard, and
    4. parents should be informed of measures or proceedings involving their children and encouraged to support them in addressing their offending behaviour.

D. Right to Counsel

Under section 25 of the YCJA, "a young person has the right to retain and instruct counsel without any stage of the proceedings". A police officer must inform young persons of their right to counsel upon their arrest or detention. The Legal Services Society of British Columbia provides legal services for young persons, regardless of their income or their parents’ income.

E. Right to Notice

Notice must be given to the parents as soon as possible in any of the following circumstances:

  • the young person is arrested and detained in custody
  • a summons or appearance notice is issued to the young person
  • the young person is released on giving a promise to appear, or
  • upon the young person entering into a recognizance (ss 26 (1) and (2))

When the whereabouts of the parents of a young person are unknown, notice may be given to an adult relative or to any other adult who is known by the young person and who is likely to assist the young person (s. 26(4)). When notice has not been given, the court may adjourn the proceedings until notice is given or may dispense with notice if the court thinks it would be appropriate (s. 26(11)).

Notice is not required if the person has attained the age of 20 at the time of their first appearance before a Youth Justice Court (s. 26(12)).

The court may, if necessary, order the attendance of a parent at proceedings against a young person. A parent who then fails to attend may be held in contempt of court (s. 27).

F. Alternatives to the Court Process: Extrajudicial Measures and Sanctions

1. Extrajudicial Measures

Extrajudicial measures (EJM) are an alternative to the formal court process. The principles applicable to the use of EJM’s are set out in section 4 of the YCJA. There is a presumption that EJM’s are adequate to hold a young person accountable for their offending behaviour if the young person has committed a non-violent offence and has not previously been found guilty of an offence.

However, it may also be appropriate even if there has been a prior use of EJM’s or a prior finding of guilt. The addition of section 4.1(1) from Bill C-75 sets out the direction that EJM’s are also presumed to be adequate to hold a young person accountable in certain cases of breach of sentencing conditions or failure to appear at court, subject to the violations not having caused harm or safety concerns to the public or the young person having a history of failures or breaches. S 4.1(2) of Bill C-75 sets out that EJM’s should be used if they are adequate to hold the young person accountable for their failure to appear or refusal. If EJM’s are inadequate, the next measures the court should consider before proceeding with a charge are 1) issuing an appearance notice for a judicial referral hearing, or 2) applying for a review of the youth sentence. Only once these measures are deemed inadequate should the court proceed with a charge.

Section 5 of the YCJA outlines the objectives of EJM's. EJM’s should be designed to:

  • provide an effective and timely response to offending behaviour,
  • to encourage young persons to acknowledge and repair the harm caused,
  • to encourage families of the young persons and the community to become involved in the design and implementation of those measures,
  • to provide an opportunity for victims to participate in decisions, and
  • to respect the rights and freedoms of young persons and be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.

Both summary and indictable offences (in exceptional circumstances) may be considered for EJM’s.

Forms of EJM available:

  • To a police officer are (s. 6):
    • to take no further action
    • to warn the young person
    • to administer a caution, or
    • to refer the young person to a program or agency in the community (with the consent of the young person).
    • Bill C-75 states that a police officer must consider whether one of these EJM’s will be sufficient before taking any other action.
  • To Crown Counsel are (s. 8):
    • to administer a caution.

Section 6 of the Act requires police officers to consider extrajudicial measures and to refer cases to community agencies and programs when appropriate. Community Accountability Programs (CAPs) are funded by the Province of British Columbia and offer alternatives to the traditional justice system.

Many CAPs accept criminal case referrals from the police as well as the community. The programs use Restorative Justice principles. Restorative Justice is a philosophy that aims to address the harms caused by criminal acts and work towards a resolution for the offender, victim, and community. While approaches may vary across programs, many use one-to-one facilitation, talking circles and conferences to work towards a confidential resolution that does not result in a criminal record for the person who has caused harm. To participate, the youth offender must take responsibility for their actions. The participation of other parties, such as victims, parents, and community members may depend on the case and the CAP.

2. Extrajudicial Sanctions

Extrajudicial sanctions (EJS) may be used where the seriousness of the offence, the nature and number of previous offences committed by the young person or any other aggravating circumstances make a warning, caution, or referral inadequate (s. 10 YCJA).

EJS’s may be used only if(s. 10(2)):

  1. they are part of a program of sanctions authorized by the Attorney General;
  2. the sanctions are considered appropriate having regard to the needs of the young person and the interests of society;
  3. the young person, having been informed of the EJS, fully and freely consents to be subject to it;
  4. the young person has, before consenting to be subject to the EJS, been advised of their right to be represented by counsel and been given a reasonable opportunity to consult with counsel;
  5. the young person accepts responsibility for the act or omission that forms the basis of the alleged offence;
  6. there is, in the opinion of the Attorney General, sufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution of the offence;
  7. the prosecution of the offence is not in any way barred at law.

This procedure commonly involves an interview with a youth worker (through the local probation office), who will recommend a plan to the prosecutor that may include conditions such as counselling, restitution, community service, victim offender mediation, or an apology. Section 10(3) precludes EJS’s in circumstances where the young person denies culpability or expresses a desire to have the charges proceed against them in youth justice court. Statements accepting responsibility, made as a condition of being dealt with through EJS’s, are not admissible in evidence in any subsequent civil or criminal proceedings (s. 10(4)). If EJS’s are imposed, the person who administers the program must inform the parents of the young person about the sanctions (s. 11). Victims, upon request, are entitled to be informed of the identity of the young person and how the offence was dealt with when an EJS is used (s. 12).

G. Court Process

1. Compelling a Young Person’s Appearance in Court

The procedure for compelling a young person to attend court is generally the same as that for adults as set out in the CC. A police officer may release a young person on either an Appearance Notice or a Promise to Appear (an Undertaking). These documents will indicate a time, date and location for the Young Person’s first appearance in Court. If the Information is not laid prior to this first appearance the Appearance Notice or the Promise to Appear will be rendered a nullity. The Undertaking, however, will continue in force as long as the charges are before the Court.

If the young person does not appear when they are supposed to or fails to comply with an undertaking, they can be charged with failure to comply. If the original charge that they made the Promise to Appear/Undertaking for is dismissed, withdrawn, or stayed, or the young person is acquitted, the Attorney General must review the charge for failure to comply before that prosecution can proceed (Bill C-75 s. 24.1).

The Ontario Court of Appeal in R v Oliveira, 2009 ONCA 219 held that a Promise to Appear and an Undertaking serve two distinct and separate purposes. The Court went on to explain that the purpose of the Promise to Appear is to secure the initial attendance of the Accused in Court. The Undertaking, in contrast, constitutes a promise by the Accused to comply with certain conditions in exchange for his release from custody pending the resolution of the charges.

Alternatively, and after an Information has been laid, a young person will be compelled to Court by either a Summons or a Warrant. A Warrant is issued where:

  • Crown Counsel is either seeking the Detention of the young person or conditions of release for the young person, or
  • the whereabouts of the young person are unknown.

2. Time Limitations

The time limitation for commencing a prosecution is the same for both adults and youth. Time limitations vary depending on the nature of the offences and are set out in the CC. See Chapter 1: Criminal Law.

3. Proof of Age

The age of the young person must be established. This is usually done at the early stages of the proceedings. There are a number of ways that this can be accomplished:

  • a parent can testify as to the age of the young person (s. 148(1) YCJA),
  • a birth or baptismal certificate can be evidence of the age of a young person (s. 148(2) YCJA),
  • Defence Counsel may attest to having spoken with a parent or guardian, and on that basis, admit the age of the young person (s. 149 YCJA), or
  • the Court may act on any other information it considers reliable to determine the age of a young person (s. 148(3) YCJA).

4. Proof of Notice

It must be shown that a young person’s parent or guardian has been notified of the charges against the young person.

  • If detained, a police officer must contact the parents (in writing or orally) as soon as possible and tell them the location where the young person is being held and the reason for their arrest.
  • If released on a Promise to Appear or other Undertaking, the police officer must give written notice to the parents as soon as possible.
  • If given a ticket under the Contraventions Act (other than a parking ticket), the parents should be given written notice as soon as possible.
  • If the parents cannot be located, notice can be given to another relative or adult who is likely to assist the young person and is deemed appropriate.

5. Pre-Trial Detention and Conditions

The rules of pre-trial detention are set out in sections 28 and 29 of the YCJA. A young person cannot be detained in custody or have conditions included in an undertaking as a substitute for appropriate child protection, mental health or other social measures.

Moreover, starting December 18, 2019, a young person may be subjected to a condition only if the judge/justice is satisfied that (s. 29(1)):

  • the condition is needed to ensure their court appearance or keep safe or protect the public,
  • the condition is reasonable to the circumstances of the offending behaviour, and,
  • the young person would reasonably be able to comply with the condition.

A young person may only be detained in custody where the Crown has proven, on a balance of probabilities, that:

  1. The young person has either:
    • been charged with a serious offence (as defined in s. 2, YCJA), or
    • has a history that indicates a pattern of either outstanding charges or findings of guilt.
  2. There is either:
    • a substantial likelihood that the young person will not appear in court, or
    • evidence that detention is necessary for the protection of the public having regard to all the circumstances including a substantial likelihood that the young person will commit a serious offence, or
    • evidence that the young person has been charged with a serious offence and detention is necessary to maintain confidence in the administration of justice having regard to the declaration of principle and all the circumstances, including: the strength of the prosecution’s case, the gravity of the offence, circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence, and the young person is liable for a potentially lengthy custodial sentence.
  3. There are no conditions that would:
    • reduce the likelihood that the young person would not appear in court, or
    • offer adequate protection to the public, or
    • maintain confidence in the administration of justice.

Bill C-75 adds the requirement that if a young person is charged with a summary offence (or the Crown is proceeding summarily), the need for detention must be reviewed every 30 days.

A young person may be placed in the care of a responsible person instead of being held in custody if a youth justice court is satisfied that:

  1. the young person would otherwise be detained in custody; and
  2. the person is willing and able to take care of and exercise control over the young person; and
  3. the young person is willing to be placed in the care of that person.

A responsible person who agrees to care for a young person under section 31(3) adopts a very serious responsibility. The responsible person must sign an undertaking that binds them to oversee and essentially police the young person’s bail order. This undertaking often includes a term that the responsible person report to the police and the bail supervisor any breaches of the bail conditions. Wilful failure to comply with the terms of the undertaking may result in the responsible person being charged with an offence punishable with up to two years imprisonment (s. 139).

Section 30 of the YCJA provides that a young person who has been detained in custody prior to being sentenced must be placed in a youth facility. When that person attains the age of 20 years they shall be placed in an adult facility.

6. Pleas

A young person may plead guilty or not guilty (s. 36). The plea of not guilty by reason of mental disorder is also available. Pleas must be entered before a Youth Justice Court judge (not a judicial justice of the peace).

After a guilty plea is entered a Youth Justice Court judge may order the preparation of:

  1. a pre-sentence report (s. 40); or
  2. a medical, psychiatric and/or psychological report (s. 34).

The Judge may also convene a section 19 Conference. Where a not guilty plea is entered a Trial Date is set.

7. The Trial Process

The trial process is the same for young persons as it is for adults.

Admissibility of Statements

The law relating to the admissibility of statements made by adult accused persons to persons in authority also applies to youths (s. 146(1)). There are, however, specific provisions that ensure a young person understands both the consequences of making such a statement and is given the opportunity to seek and/or consult counsel (s. 146(2)). The right to counsel may be waived but must be done so either by a signed written statement or a recorded statement (s. 146(4) and (5)). A judge may rule inadmissible any statement given by a young person if satisfied that it was given under duress (s. 146(7)). Voluntary statements can be admitted into evidence, even where there has been a technical irregularity in complying with a young person’s statutory protection, provided that the Youth Justice Court is satisfied that the admission of the statement would not offend the principle that young persons are entitled to enhanced procedural protection to ensure that they are treated fairly and that their rights are protected (s. 146(6)).

In R v AD, 2010 BCSC 1715, the statement of the 15-year-old accused was found inadmissible for non-compliance with s. 146(2)(d) of the YCJA. In that case, Justice Stromberg-Stein notes that “[i]nforming a young person they are entitled to have a lawyer or third party with whom they have consulted present, rather than phrasing this as a requirement, is ‘deficient’ and ‘not completely accurate’, as s. 146 draws an important distinction between the rights of the young person and the requirements placed upon the police.” In that case, counsel for the accused was out of town and unable to immediately come to the police station where the accused was detained. Although the police informed AD of his right to have his lawyer present during the interview, it was clear that they were going to interview him that same day, regardless of his lawyer’s availability.

The YCJA does not specify the standard of proof the Crown must meet to show compliance with s. 146. In R v LTH, 2008 SCC 49, the Supreme Court of Canada stated each component of s 146 must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. If a young person has been interviewed, Crown must prove the person taking the young person’s statement took reasonable steps to ensure the young person understood their rights (R v LTH, 2008 SCC 49, 2 SCR 739, at para 6). Simply reading a standardized form will likely not fulfill the caution requirement of s. 146(2)(b). The person in authority must make reasonable efforts to determine the level of comprehension of the specific young person to ensure their explanation is appropriate.

In R v LTH, the majority of the Court found the police officer, when reading the accused his rights, failed to take into account that the accused had a learning disability, and, as a result, found the statement inadmissible. In R v LTH, the Court also notes that Crown Counsel does not have to prove the young person actually understood the rights explained to them. If the Judge is satisfied, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the young person’s rights and options were explained as required by s. 146, the judge may infer the young person understood those rights and the consequences of waiving them. The burden then shifts to the defence to point to evidence showing the young person did not in fact understand their rights or the consequences of waiving those rights.

Children and Young Persons as Witnesses

Where a child is a witness at a Youth Court trial, the Judge or Justice must instruct that child as to the duty to speak the truth and the consequences of failing to do so. Where a young person is a witness the Judge or Justice may instruct the young person as to this duty “if he/she considers it necessary” (s 151).

There are special protections under the Criminal Code for witnesses who are under the age of 18 years. A justice/judge has the discretion under section 486 of the CC to exclude members of the public from the courtroom if they are of the opinion that such an order is in the interest of public morals, the maintenance of order or the proper administration of justice. The “proper administration of justice” includes ensuring that the interests of witnesses under the age of eighteen years are safeguarded in all proceedings (CC, s. 486(2)(b)). A witness who is under the age of 18 years may also be entitled to have a support person present in the courtroom while testifying (CC, s. 486.1), to testify outside the courtroom or to testify behind a screen (CC, s. 486.2). The child or young person must be advised of these options.

Section 16.1 of the Canada Evidence Act provides that a person under 14 years of age is presumed to have the capacity to testify. Any person who challenges the capacity of such a witness bears the burden of satisfying the Court that there is an issue as to the witness’ capacity to understand and respond to questions. It must be shown that the witness does not understand the duty of speaking the truth.

H. Sentences

1. Youth Sentences

The purpose and principles of sentencing under the YCJA are set out in sections 3 and 38 of the Act. The purpose of sentencing is to hold a young person accountable for an offence through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences for the young person and that promote their rehabilitation and reintegration into society, thereby contributing to the long-term protection of the public (s. 38(1)). The principles of sentencing are set out in section 38(2) and include:

  1. The sentence must not result in a punishment greater than would be appropriate for an adult convicted of the same offence committed in similar circumstances,
  2. The sentence must be similar to that which would be imposed in other regions,
  3. The sentence must be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence,
  4. All available sanctions other than custody should be considered, with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal young persons,
  5. Subject to paragraph (c) the sentence must:
    • be one that is the least restrictive, the most likely to rehabilitate and that will promote a sense of responsibility in the young person and an acknowledgement of the harm done to the victim(s) and society. None of these factors should be considered in isolation from each other, the other principles in 38(2), or the purposes and objectives of the act as a whole.
    • e.1. Any condition imposed as a part of the sentence can only be imposed if it is necessary to achieve the purpose set out in s 38(1), if the young offender would reasonably be able to comply with it, and if it is not used as a substitute for appropriate child protection, mental health or other social measures.
  6. Subject to paragraph (c), the sentence may have the objective to denounce unlawful conduct and deter the young person from committing offences.

General deterrence is not a sentencing principle under the YCJA.

Although all elements listed under 38 \(2) should be taken into consideration during sentencing the B.C. Court of Appeal has indicated that there is a hierarchy within that section. R v. S.N.J.S., [2013] B.C.J. No. 1847, the court noted that “to the extent that there is any hierarchy within the principles laid down in s. 38(2), it is (c) which is at the top of that hierarchy”. In S.NJ.S. at paragraphs 26 – 29 the Court reviewed the interplay between s.38(2)(d) and (e) with s. 38(2)(c) and indicated that s. 38(2)(e) is subject to s. 38(2)(c) and the need to impose a sentence proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence is at the top of the hierarchy. Further the court indicated that in respect of the criteria within 38(2)(e) there is no hierarchy between the three principles, and there is no reason for a judge to treat (e)(i) as trumping (e)(ii) or (iii). The judge must consider all of those requirements, along with the other principles laid down in s. 38(2), and the principles set out in s. 3, in determining a sentence. Additionally the court opined that the YCJA is not entirely “offender-centric”(para 28)

In determining a youth sentence, section 38(3) requires a Youth Justice Court consider:

  1. The degree of participation of the young person in the offence,
  2. The harm done to victims,
  3. Any reparation made by the young person,
  4. The time the young person has already spent in detention as a result of the offence,
  5. Any previous findings of guilt of the young person, and
  6. Any other aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

A Youth Justice Court shall, before imposing a youth sentence, consider a pre-sentence report prepared by a youth worker, representations made by the parties, other relevant information and recommendations submitted as a result of a section 19 Conference (s. 42(1)). Mandatory minimum sentences under adult or provincial statutes do not apply to young persons. The maximum duration of youth sentences is set out in section 42(14) to (16). A custodial sentence cannot be used as a substitute for appropriate child protection, mental health or other social measures (s. 39(5)).

Sentencing options are set out in section 42(2),YCJA. Non-custodial sentence options include:

  1. A judicial reprimand,
  2. An absolute discharge,
  3. A conditional discharge,
  4. A fine to a maximum of $1000,
  5. Compensation and restitution,
  6. Community work service,
  7. Probation,
  8. An Intensive Support and Supervision Program Order (ISSO), and
  9. Non-residential programs

Where a fine or an order for compensation or restitution is imposed, a court must consider the present and future means of the young person to pay. If a fine is imposed, the YCJA allows for the lieutenant governor in council of the province to order a percentage of any fine imposed on a young person to be used to assist victims of offences (s. 53(1)). In B.C., an Order in Council has set this at 15%. Where a conditional discharge, probation or ISSO is imposed, the court must ensure that any conditions included complying with the requirements in s. 38(2)(e.1) of the YCJA.

Section 39(1) of the YCJA provides that a young person cannot be committed to custody unless:

  1. The young person has committed a violent offence,
  2. The young person has previously been found guilty of an offence under section 137 in relation to more than one sentence and, if the court is imposing a sentence for an offence under subsections 145(2) to (5) of the Criminal Code or section 137, the young person must have caused harm, or a risk of harm, to the safety of the public in committing that offence,
  3. 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 either extrajudicial sanctions or of findings of guilt, or
  4. In exceptional cases where the young person has committed an indictable offence, the aggravating circumstances of the offence are such that the imposition of a non-custodial sentence would be inconsistent with the purpose and principles set out in section 38.

The Youth Justice Court under s. 39(2) of the YCJA is required to consider all alternatives to custody that are reasonable in the circumstances and, if custody is imposed, reasons must be given as to why the Court found a non-custodial sentence inadequate to achieve the purpose of sentencing as set out in section 38(1) (s. 39(9)).

Prior to committing a young person to custody, the Judge must consider a pre-sentence report (s. 39(6)). This requirement can be waived, with the consent of the prosecutor and the young person, and if the Youth Justice Court is satisfied that it is unnecessary (s. 39(7)).

Custodial sentence options include:

  1. Deferred Custody and Supervision Order (s 42(2)(p)): This is a custodial sentence served in the community. It is not available where a young person has committed an offence that causes or attempts to cause serious bodily harm. The maximum duration of this sentence is 6 months. If the young person breaches a condition of the DCSO, a warrant may be issued and, after a hearing, the DCSO may be converted to a Custody and Supervision Order.
  2. Custody and Supervision Order (s 42(2)(n)). The maximum duration of a CSO is two years, or three years if an adult maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Two thirds of the sentence must be served in custody while the remaining one-third is served under a community supervision order. The level of custody (open custody or secure custody) must be specified by the youth justice court (s 88 and Order in Council 267/2003). The provincial director sets the mandatory and optional condition of the community portion of the CSO (s 97). In R v RRJ, 2009 BCCA 580, the British Columbia Court of Appeal held that pre-sentence detention is not part of the sentence imposed. The Court explained that the Judge must consider time already served in custody when sentencing a young person but that the judge may still choose to impose the maximum period of custody and supervision available under the statute.
  3. Custody and Supervision Order (s 42(2)(o)): A custody term of a maximum of three years can be imposed where a young person is convicted of either attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault. There is no minimum time period that must be spent in custody. The time spent in custody is left up to the Judge’s discretion.
  4. Custody and Supervision Order (s 42(2)(q)): Young persons convicted of murder can be committed to custody for longer periods of time. A young person convicted of 1st degree murder can serve a custodial sentence of 10 years (no more than 6 years can be served in continuous custody). In the case of 2nd degree murder a sentence of 7 years can be imposed (no more than 4 can be served in continuous custody).
  5. Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision Order (s. 42(2)(r) and 42(7)): These orders are rare and are usually imposed when a young person has serious mental health issues. The YCJA allows for a delay in the imposition of a custody order where appropriate. In these instances, the probation order commences prior to the custody order and stipulates that the custody sentence begin immediately after the designated period of delay (s. 42(12)).

While in custody a young person, with the assistance of a youth worker, must plan for their reintegration into the community, including the preparation and implementation of a reintegration plan that sets out the most effective programs for the young person in order to maximize their chances for reintegration in the community (s. 90(1)).

Section 76(2),YCJA prohibits young persons under the age of 18 years from serving any portion of their custodial sentence in either a provincial correctional facility for adults or a penitentiary. A young person who is serving a youth custodial sentence may be transferred to an adult correctional facility if the Court considers it to be in the best interests of the young person or in the public interest (s. 92). A young person who turns 20 years old while serving a custodial sentence will be transferred to an adult facility (s. 93). A young person who has reached the age of 20 at the time the custodial youth sentence is imposed will be committed to a provincial correctional facility for adults (s. 89(1)).

Section 19 Conferences

A Youth Justice Court may convene a conference under section 19 for recommendations as to an appropriate sentence (ss 41 and 19). Conferences can be an effective means of coordinating services, broadening the range of perspectives on a case, and arriving at more creative and appropriate resolutions. Conferences can be composed of a number of different people, including the victim the accused, their parents, members of the justice system, and community resource professionals. The conference may elicit advice on decisions such as a suitable extrajudicial measure, a condition for release from pre-trial detention, appropriate sentencing and plans for reintegrating the young person back into the community after release from custody.

2. Adult Sentences

Crown Counsel may make an application to the youth justice court for an order that a young person is liable to an adult sentence if the young person is or has been found guilty of an offence for which an adult is liable to imprisonment for a term of more than 2 years and that was committed after the young person attained the age of 14 years (s. 64(1)). Prior to changes in Bill C-75, the Crown Counsel was obligated to consider whether it would be appropriate to seek an adult sentence for a young person, over the age of 14 years, who committed a serious violent offence (murder, attempt murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault), and to advise the court of that decision. Provinces could also choose to fix an age greater than 14 years but not greater than 16 years for the purpose of this requirement to consider an adult sentence. As of September 19, 2019, the last two points have been repealed.

The Youth Justice Court shall order that an adult sentence be imposed if Crown Counsel has satisfied the Court that:

  1. The presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability of the young person is rebutted (s. 72(1)(a)), and
  2. A youth sentence would not be of sufficient length to hold the young person accountable for their behaviour (s. 72(1)(b)).

Although youths can be sentenced as adults the sentencing guidelines are not strictly the same as those that would be utilized in sentencing an adult. In R v Pratt, 2007 BCCA 206, the British Columbia Court of Appeal recognized that the court must consider the principles of sentencing in section 3 YCJA when sentencing a youth, including a youth who receives an adult sentence.

3. Reintegration Leave

The Provincial Director may, subject to any terms or conditions that they consider desirable, authorize a young person committed to custody in a youth facility the opportunity to have leave from the facility. There are two categories of leave:

  1. Reintegration Leave: This leave is granted for medical, compassionate or humanitarian reasons or for the purpose of rehabilitating the young person or reintegrating the young person into the community. The maximum length of time is 30 days (s. 91(1)(a)).
  2. Day release: This leave is to allow a youth to attend an educational facility, to attend work, to assist their family, to participate in programming related to school and/or work or to attend an outpatient treatment program or other program that provides services to address the needs of the young person (s. 91(1)(b)).

Reintegration leaves are also available to a young person serving an adult sentence in a youth facility.

4. DNA Sample

When a young person is found guilty of certain designated offences (see s. 487.04 of the CC), an order may be made for the young person to provide samples of one or more bodily substances for the purpose of forensic DNA analysis, under ss 487.051 and 487.052. The resulting DNA data is stored in a DNA databank, which is maintained by the RCMP.

The DNA Identifications Act, SC 1998, c 37, has been amended so as to limit the retention of DNA samples taken from a young person. DNA samples taken from young persons can be retained for shorter periods of time than those taken from adults (s. 9.1) and shall be promptly destroyed when the record relating to the offence is expunged (s. 10.1).

I. Review of Sentences

1. Custodial Sentences

An annual review is mandatory for all custodial sentences over one year. This review is to take place without delay at the end of one year from the date of the earliest youth sentence imposed and the end of every subsequent year from that date (ss 94 (1) and (2)).

A young person may be entitled to an optional review. When the youth sentence is for less than one year a young person may request a review 30 days after the sentence is imposed or after serving one third of the sentence, whichever is greater (ss 94(3)(a)(i) and (ii)). When the youth sentence exceeds one year a young person may seek a review after serving six months of the sentence (s. 94(3)(b)). In either case, the review will only take place where the Youth Justice Court is satisfied that there are grounds for such review (s. 94(5)). Possible grounds for review are as follows:

  • The young person has made sufficient progress to justify a change in the sentence
  • The circumstances that led to the youth sentence have changed materially
  • There are new services or programs available that were not available at the time of the youth sentence
  • The opportunities for rehabilitation are now greater in the community, or
  • Any other grounds the youth justice court considers appropriate (s. 94(6)).

A progress report must be prepared for the purposes of review (s. 94(9)). A Youth Justice Court, after review, may confirm the sentence or it may release the young person from custody and place the young person on conditional supervision (s. 94(19)). The terms of the condition supervision will be imposed by the youth justice court in accordance with section 105.

2. Non-Custodial Sentences

As of December 18, 2019, section 59(1) of the YCJA allows for non-custodial sentences to be reviewed at any time after they are imposed. They no longer require leave from a PCJ for a review within the first 6 month period after sentencing. The application for review can be made by the provincial director, the young person, the young person’s parent, or by Crown Counsel (s. 59(1)). The grounds for review are:

  • The circumstances that led to the youth sentence have changed materially,
  • The young person is unable to comply with or is experiencing serious difficulty in complying with the terms of the youth sentence,
  • The young person has contravened a condition of an order without reasonable excuse,
  • The terms of the youth sentence are adversely affecting the opportunities available to the young person to obtain services, education or employment, or
  • Any other ground that the youth justice court considers appropriate (s. 59(2)).

A progress report may be ordered for the purposes of such a review (s. 59(3)). A Youth Justice Court, after conducting a review, may confirm the youth sentence, terminate the youth sentence or vary the youth sentence (s. 59(7)). Subsection 59(8) states that the varied sentence cannot be more onerous that the original youth sentence, unless the young person consents or more time is required to comply with the youth sentence (s. 59(9)). The time to complete a community work service order or a restitution order may be extended for up to 1 year (s. 59(9)). Further, the new s. 59(10) allows for more onerous conditions to be added onto a sentence made under 42(2) or (1) if they would either better protect the safety of the public from the risk of harm by the young offender, or if it would assist the young offender to comply with any conditions previously imposed as part of the sentence.

J. Appeals

Under the YCJA, young persons and the Crown have the same rights of appeal as adults under the CC (ss 37(1) and (5)). However, a young person cannot appeal a sentence review decision, whether mandatory or optional (s. 37(11)).

K. Special Concerns

1. Public Hearings

Youth Justice Court hearings are open to the public. A justice may, however, exclude any person from all or part of the proceedings if the Justice considers that the person’s presence is unnecessary to the conduct of the proceedings and the justice is of the opinion that:

  • Any information presented to the Justice would be seriously injurious or seriously prejudicial to the young person, a witness, or a victim, or
  • It would be in the interest of public morals, the maintenance of order or the proper administration of justice to exclude any member of the public (s. 132).

2. Publication of a Young Person’s Identity

Section 110(1) YCJA states that no person shall publish the name of a young person, or any other information that would result in the identification of a young person. This ban does not apply:

  • Where the information relates to a young person who has received an adult sentence, or,
  • Where the publication of information is made in the course of the administration of justice and not for the purpose of making the information known in the community.

Bill C-75 eliminated the court-initiated lifting of publication ban for violent youth offenders as of September 19, 2019.

Once a young person attains the age of eighteen years they may apply to lift the ban on publication for the purpose of permitting that person to publish information that would identify them as having been dealt with by the YCJA. The ban will only be lifted if the Youth Justice Court is satisfied that the publication would not be contrary to the young person’ best interests or the public interest (s. 110(6)).

3. Fingerprints and Photographs

The Identification of Criminals Act, RSC 1995, c I-1, applies to young persons. Fingerprints and photographs of a young person can only be taken in circumstances in which an adult would be subject to the same procedures (YCJA, s. 113).

4. Records: Access and Disclosure

Sections 114 to 129 of the YCJA govern the records relating to young people which are kept in relation to the Youth Justice Court process. These provisions set out who may keep records in relation to a young person who is charged under the Act, and restrict access and control the disclosure of information contained within these records.

Records that arise out of proceedings under the YCJA may be kept by:

  • A Youth Justice Court, a review board or any court dealing with matters arising out of proceedings under the YCJA (s. 114),
  • An investigating police force may keep a record relating to any alleged offence or any offence committed by a young person (s. 115(1)),
  • An investigating police force may keep a record of any extrajudicial measures that they use to deal with young persons (s. 115(1.1)),
  • A department or an agency of any government in Canada for the purpose of an investigation, use in proceedings against the young person, sentencing, and considering the young person for extrajudicial measures (s. 116(1)).

Who has access to these records is set out in sections 117 to 124 YCJA. Except as authorized by the YCJA no person is to be given access to a record, kept under sections 114 to 116, and no information contained in it may be given to any person, where to do so would identify the young person as a person dealt with under the Act (s. 118(1)). Sections 119(1-2) list the persons to whom access to records may be granted and the time limits within which access can be granted. These time limits vary in length depending on the treatment of the young person by the court. After the applicable access period has ended a person must apply to a Youth Justice Court judge to gain access to the records and the application must meet the requirements set out in section 123(1). The group of persons to whom access will be granted with respect to extrajudicial sanctions has special limitations (s. 119(4)).

Not all records concerning young persons are governed by the same rules with respect to access. Under section 120 YCJA RCMP records may be accessed by:

  • the young person to whom the record relates,
  • the young person’s counsel,
  • a government of Canada employee for statistical purposes,
  • any person with a valid interest in the record if a judge is satisfied that access is desirable in the public interest for research or statistical purposes,
  • the Attorney General or a peace officer for the purpose of investigating an offence,
  • the Attorney General or a peace officer to establish the existence of an order in any offence involving a breach of an order, and
  • any person for the purposes of the Firearms Act.

Sections 125 to 127 of the Act deals with disclosure of the information in a record. These rules may disclose information which is in their possession, to whom they may disclose the information, and when such disclosure will be permitted. Before any information is disclosed, the young person must have an opportunity to be heard unless reasonable efforts locate the young person have been unsuccessful.

5. Mental Health Provisions

Young persons who come into contact with the criminal justice system may suffer from mental health issues. The CC provisions regarding mental disorders apply to the YCJA except to the extent they are inconsistent with the YJCA (s. 141). Section 34 of the YCJA allows the Court to take into account the mental health of a young person and order a report in certain circumstances.

Pursuant to section 34, at any stage of the proceedings the Court may order an assessment of a young person by a qualified person who is required to report the results of the assessment in writing:

  1. with the consent of the young person and the Crown, or
  2. on its own motion or on application of the young person or the Crown if the court believes a report is necessary and:
    • the Court has reasonable grounds to believe that the young person is suffering from a physical or mental illness or disorder, a psychological disorder, an emotional disturbance, a learning disability, or a mental disability,
    • the young person has a history indicating a pattern of offences, or
    • the young person is alleged to have committed a serious violent offence.

In practice, the threshold for meeting 34 (a) is broader than it appears. In R v. D.P. (6 July 2017), Vancouver 23695-2-C, 23664-1 (BC Youth Div) the Youth Division of the BC Provincial Court clarified that to order a report under s. 34 (1) the court does not need to conclude or even suspect that the evaluation would indicate that a person has a “diagnosed condition”. Instead, 34(1) is satisfied if there is some indication that there is information relating to the young person’s medical condition that would assist the court in carrying out it’s purpose.

An assessment report can be ordered under YCJA section 34(2) for a limited number of designated purposes, i.e. if the Youth Justice Court is:

  • considering an application under s. 33 (release from or detention in custody),
  • deciding whether to impose an adult sentence under s. 71,
  • making or reviewing a youth sentence,
  • considering an application for continuation of custody (s. 104(1)),
  • setting conditions for conditional supervision (s. 105(1)),
  • making an order after a review of a breach of conditional supervision (s. 109(2)), or
  • authorizing disclosure of information about a young person (s. 127(1)).

Section 34(2)(a) seems to significantly narrow the purposes for which an assessment can be ordered and restricts it to instances where the court is reviewing a previous decision via a section 33 application. In practice, however, the courts suggest that 34(2)(a) should be read to include bail hearings in the first instance. In R v. C.L. (27 February 2014), Vancouver 22805-2-C (BC Youth Div) the Youth Division of the BC Provincial Court noted that restricting s. 34 applications to a youth applying to release from detention “leads to an absurd result” because the same considerations apply before there has been a detention. Similarly, in R v C.B. (13 May 2014), Vancouver 23236-1; 23236-2-A (BC Youth Div) the court recognized that 34(2), if read narrowly, is inconsistent with other parts of the act. In C.B. the court notes that s. 34(2) should be read “expansively” so that it applies to “a release from or detention in custody of a young person who is before the court, whether it is by s.33 or by the more general process of arrest”. Both cases indicate that 34(2)(a) is not limited to applications under s. 33.

Only the people described in section 119 of the YCJA can have access to the medical and psychological reports outlined in section 34.

For more information on mental illness and the law, see Chapter 14: Mental Health Law.

6. Victims

Amendments have been made to the CC to enhance the role of the victim in the criminal trial process. The YCJA also aims to enhance the victim’s role. This is demonstrated by the references to victims’ rights in the general principles of section 3 and the fact that consideration of the harm done to victims and reparations are relevant in youth sentencing (s. 38(3)).

B.C. is at the forefront when it comes to victim rights’ legislation, particularly in relation to the enactment of the Victims of Crime Act, which helps to ensure victims’ views and concerns will not go unnoticed. In 2015, Parliament enacted the Canadian Victims’ Bill of Rights, which guarantees victims’ rights throughout the criminal justice system across Canada. Refer to Chapter 4: Victims for more information.

7. Sex Offenders Information Registration Act

In April 2004, Parliament enacted the Sex Offenders Information Registration Act, SC 2004, c 10 [“SOIRA”], to help police investigate sexual crimes by providing them with up-to-date information from convicted sex offenders. The Act imposes an ongoing reporting process for sex offenders to provide information regarding residence, telephone numbers, employment, education, and physical description.

Section 490.011(2) of the CC provides that the SOIRA applies to young persons only if they are given adult sentences. Section 7 of the SOIRA allows a sex offender who is under 18 years to choose an adult to be in attendance when they report to a registration centre where information is collected.

8. Forfeiture

Forfeiture amounts may have been set out in an Undertaking or release order. Applications to follow through on the forfeiture are made to the youth justice court (s 134 YCJA). A Judge will arrange a hearing to decide if the forfeiture should be allowed or not.

© Copyright 2021, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.