While the youth court was to fulfil a parental role by meeting the special needs of the child involved in the court process, the delinquent’s parents were not excluded from the proceedings in which their child was an accused. Section 8 of the JDA states that: “Due notice of the hearing of any charge of delinquency shall be served on the parent or parents or the guardian of the child...” This provision was included to ensure that the best interests of the child could be assessed by the court. If the child’s parents were not in attendance in court, the judge could assume that the child was neglected, and could involve the appropriate child-welfare authorities in the child’s case, if necessary. However, if the delinquent’s parents were present at their child’s hearing, the judge could take the parents’ concern and interest into consideration when deciding on a suitable disposition for their child.

Evidence of the child-welfare approach taken by the JDA can be found in the definition of ‘juvenile delinquent’ which is clearly distinct from the term ‘criminal.’ Under the JDA, delinquents were not criminals but misguided youths, and the behaviours that constituted delinquency were not, in all cases, offences for which adults could be charged. Section 2.(c) of the JDA reads:

“juvenile delinquent” means any child who violates any provision of The Criminal Code..., or of any Dominion or provincial statute, or of any by-law or ordinance of any municipality, for which violation punishment by fine or imprisonment may be awarded; or, who is liable by reason of any other act to be committed to an industrial school or juvenile reformatory under the provisions of any Dominion or provincial statute.

In a subsequent revision of the JDA, this subsection was amended to include in the definition of ‘juvenile delinquent,’ “any child who...is guilty of sexual immorality or any similar form of vice...” Offences for which adults could not be charged, but for which those under sixteen years of age could, were referred to as ‘status offences,’ and encompassed a wide variety of behaviours including truancy, incorrigibility, drug use, and as mentioned above, sexual immorality. A significant proportion of all offences committed by juveniles under the JDA were status, as opposed to criminal or quasi-criminal, offences. In Ontario, for example, in 1973, committals to industrial schools for status offences constituted 42.5% of all committals made (Leschied & Jaffe, 1995, p. 421). In other jurisdictions, status offences made up a smaller, yet substantial proportion of acts for which a committal to a training school was given as a disposition. The definition of delinquency given in the JDA ensured that children guilty of offences against the Criminal Code were treated in a manner similar to unruly or neglected youths. The focus of the youth court was the offender and his special needs, not the offence for which he was charged.

The Juvenile Delinquents Act applied to boys and girls between seven and eighteen years of age, but the maximum and minimum ages varied by province, however. The maximum age ranged from sixteen to eighteen years, while the minimum ranged from seven to fourteen years of age. If a child was under the minimum age legislated by the province in which the offence was committed, he would be dealt with by the child welfare system, not by the courts. Young offenders over the maximum age indicated by provincial legislation were treated as adults and were subject to adult dispositions. This lack of uniformity led to a great disparity in the treatment of troubled youths across Canada (Bala, 1988).

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