Introduction to Youth Justice (2:I)

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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. Recent History

As of April 1, 2003, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, SC 2002, c 1 [“YCJA”] came into effect. 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 SC 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 (YCJA, s 3):

  1. preventing youth crime by addressing underlying causes;
  2. meaningful consequences for offences; and
  3. increased focus on rehabilitation and reintegration for youth returning to the community.

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.

Victims 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, BC 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.

The YCJA was further amended by Bill C-75, passed on June 21, 2019. On September 19, 2019 the first amendments to the YCJA came into force. Firstly it repealed section 64(1.1) and (1.2) of the YCJA, which required the Attorney General to determine whether to seek an adult sentence in certain cases. It further required the Attorney General to advise the youth justice court (bill section 376) if they decide not to make an application. Secondly it repealed section 75 and 110(2)(b), which required the court to decide whether to lift a ban on publishing the identity of a young person who is convicted of a violent offence (bill sections 377 and 379). Changes that came into effect on December 18, 2019 mainly decrease the number of charges for administration of justice offences (e.g. breach of conditions) and incarceration rates related to those offences when no harm to society has been done. The changes include a new assumption of the appropriateness of extrajudicial measures in certain breach of condition/failure to appear charges and an increase in the threshold for holding young offenders in custody for breach of conditions. In cases where extrajudicial measures may not be appropriate, judicial referral hearings at the bail stage or judicial reviews of youth sentences are recommended. Bill C-75 also includes changes that explicitly require imposed bail conditions to be appropriately related to the nature of the offence, the protection or safety of the public, victims, witnesses and that the offender will be reasonably able to comply with them, and that they not be a “substitute for appropriate child protection, mental health or other social measures”.

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