THE LONG ROAD TO REFORM: 1962-1984

The parens patriæ approach to juvenile justice, initiated by the JDA, reigned supreme and was virtually unchallenged for fifty-four years perhaps because “the JDA operated in a critical vacuum” (Bolton et al., 1993, p. 948). In the 1960s, however, criticism of the Act began to emerge. Many academics and workers within the justice system were concerned with the lack of uniformity in maximum and minimum ages of children, and the disparity in sentencing practices across provinces. Further, it was argued by some critics that the label, ?juvenile delinquent,’ which was applied to thousands of children for a wide range of behaviours, was stigmatizing. The intention of the Juvenile Delinquents Act was to remove the stigma attached to young offenders, as evidenced by the preamble of the Act, which states that it is “inexpedient that youthful offenders be classed... as ordinary criminals.” But labelling theorists held that many ?normal’ youths were declared delinquent by the youth justice system and, consequently, the label became a part of the self-image of a number of young people (Bolton et al., 1993). By branding children ?delinquent’ for behaviours that by today’s standards are considered ?normal,’ such as truancy or pre-marital sexual activity, the youth justice system was inadvertently promoting future deviance among status offenders who were lumped into the same general category as juvenile rapists and murderers.

The JDA was also criticized for failing to provide due process rights to young offenders (Griffiths and Verdun-Jones, 1994). Under the JDA, judges had were given a considerable amount of freedom in the determination of dispositions and thus, potential for abuse existed (Hackler, 1987). In the sixties, several landmark decisions were made by the United States Supreme Court in cases involving youths given unduly long sentences. In Kent v. U.S., it was decided that juveniles should have the right to counsel and should be entitled to a hearing. In the case In Re Gault, the United States Supreme Court established a youth’s privilege to be free from self-incrimination and to be protected by other due process rights afforded adults (Bolton et al., 1993). Under the JDA, few provisions for the legal rights of young people were in place, and it was argued that because of this, many youths were treated in a more punitive manner than were adults found guilty of similar offences (Griffiths and Verdun-Jones, 1994). Many critics of the juvenile justice system believed that Canada should follow the lead of the United States and legislate legal rights for youths.

In response to mounting criticism of the JDA and a marked increase in youth crime (Caputo, 1987), the Canadian government appointed a Committee of the Department of Justice to compile information on juvenile delinquency in 1962. This five-person committee consulted with various professionals working with youths in the justice process, including judges, legal counsel, and child- welfare workers (Bolton et al., 1993). A report by the Committee was released three years later in 1965 and, after several years of formulating legislative reforms, Bill C-192 was drafted and introduced to Parliament in 1970. The policy objectives of Bill C-192 were to remove status offences from the definition of delinquency, to create uniformity in the maximum and minimum ages to which the legislation applied, and to introduce legal protections for young offenders (Bolton et al., 1993). To the displeasure of many children’s rights advocates, this bill was not enacted because of considerable opposition within the House of Commons and the youth justice system.

The process of reform did not cease with the death of Bill C-192, however, and it became increasingly apparent in the 1970s that the parens patriæ approach was not working to reduce recidivism. The public began to call for greater accountability for young offenders and the government was under pressure once again to institute juvenile legislative reforms. With the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, a new Act to replace the JDA became a constitutional necessity, and in that year, Bill C-61 was introduced. This legislation was given Royal Assent in 1984 and was entitled the Young Offenders Act (YOA).


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