THE YOUTH CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT:
IN PRINCIPLE AND PRACTICE

Bill C-68, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, passed its first reading in the House of Commons in March of 1999. A second reading will follow, and then the Act will be subject to hearings by the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. The Act must then receive a third reading in Parliament before proceeding to the Senate. If the Act passes, will then require Royal Assent before becoming law. Implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) could begin in 2001, if no major roadblocks to its passage arise.

The YCJA “is based on an accountability framework that promotes consequences for crime that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence” (Department of Justice, 1999b). This legislation is intended to reduce the disparity in the dispositions handed out by youth courts across Canada by providing clear principles and objectives with respect to sentencing. Young people who have committed lesser offences, such as property crimes, will be diverted from the formal justice process via alternative measures or community based sentences, while young offenders charged with serious offences will be dealt with more punitively and may receive adult sentences (Department of Justice, 1999b).

The preamble of the YCJA is a new feature in juvenile justice legislation which was included to state unequivocally the purpose of the law. It is declared that “society should be protected from youth crime through a youth criminal justice system that commands respect, fosters responsibility, and ensures accountability,” and that meaningful consequences will follow the commission of a criminal act by a youth. The preamble also states that the community must share in the responsibility of meeting the needs of young people and providing guidance to them, and must aid in the prevention of youth crime by addressing its causes. It is also recognized that youths have special guarantees of their rights and freedoms, including those stated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.

The Declaration of Principle of the YCJA is a significant departure from that contained in the YOA. While the YOA attempted to balance multiple, competing principles, subsection 3(1)(a) of the YCJA states that “the principle goal of the youth justice system is to protect the public...” The second principle put forth, in subsection 3.(1)(b), is that the youth justice system must remain separate from the adult system and emphasize “fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity.” The youth justice system must also provide a higher degree of procedural protections for young people and place “a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration.” The third statement of principle of the YCJA declares that measures used to deal with young offenders should foster respect for the values of society, encourage reparations to victims and the community, be meaningful to the young person, and “respect gender, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences” among young people. Finally, the Declaration of Principle states that special considerations must be made by the youth justice system. First, youths have legal rights which allow them to participate in proceedings against them and any decisions that are made that affect them. Another consideration must be made for the victims of offences. Victims “should be treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect for their dignity...and should suffer the minimum degree of inconvenience...” and should be allowed to participate in, and receive information about, criminal proceedings against their perpetrator. Additionally, parents of young offenders should be encouraged to lend support to their children “in addressing their offending behaviour.”


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