|Volume 16 Number 1
YOUTH CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT
On March 11, 1999, one year after the Youth Justice Strategy was released
Justice Minister Anne McLennan introduced the act which will be replacing the
Young Offenders Act. As part of the government's strategy to reduce youth
crime, the Youth Criminal Justice Act is intended to provide unique and
productive changes to the current youth justice system.
One of the first things that becomes apparent when reading the Youth
Criminal Justice Act is the addition of the word 'Justice' to the Act's name.
The word alone elicits thoughts of fairness, good reason, legitimacy and equity
to a youth system under much criticism. The provisions of the Act are
indicative of changing public opinion and centre around three areas of action;
ensuring prevention and meaningful alternatives through community
efforts; providing meaningful consequences by enhancing the degree to
which victims are involved, thereby encouraging accountability, and; delivering
treatment programs that rehabilitate and reintegrate.
|Clear and specific objectives that are
consistent with the Declaration of Principle, guide police, prosecutors and
judges involved in the youth justice process.
These concepts are introduced in the Act's Declaration of Principle and
continue through the Act. Clear and specific objectives that are consistent
with the Declaration of Principle, guide police, prosecutors and judges
involved in the youth justice process. Established to address society's
concerns over violent youth crime, the new Act is designed to distinguish
between non-violent and violent/repeat offenders and to ensure that appropriate
measures are present to deal with both. Unlike the Young Offenders Act (YOA),
the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) outlines broader alternatives available
to the police, courts, community and victims.
Police and Extrajudicial Measures
In the YCJA, extrajudicial measures are defined as measures taken "other
than judicial proceedings." The Act details in great length the
extrajudicial measures available to police and prosecutors. Endorsed by the
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the YCJA provides police greater
opportunities for dealing with youths in conflict with the law. Under the new
Act, police are encouraged to consider all possible options to avoid the formal
youth justice court. Legislating and legitimizing police discretionary powers
is intended to reduce the burden put on an already overloaded youth justice
system. The YCJA authorizes police to use warnings, cautions and referrals to
community programs with the exception of the Alternative Measures Program.
Provisions set out in the YCJA permitting prosecutors to utilize extrajudicial
measures include cautioning young persons which diverts them from court
proceedings. The YOA does not legitimatize and recognize police and
prosecutorial diversion outside the use of alternative measures.
The youth justice courts are given broader sentencing options under the YCJA.
The Act has been revised to encourage the use of non-custodial sentences, and
where deemed appropriate, the use of an intensive supervision order. A set of
criteria has been detailed in the new Act to ensure that all non-custody
options have been considered before applying a custodial sentence. No such
provisions exist under the YOA. Furthermore, there are new provisions that
require that a portion of all terms of custody be served under supervision in
Lengthy transfer hearings, presumptive offences and the age at which a young
offender can be sentenced as an adult have all been changed under the new Act.
The YCJA has disposed of transfer hearings and given youth justice courts the
authority to impose adult sentences (under strict conditions). In addition, the
list of presumptive offences which includes murder, manslaughter and aggravated
sexual assault is extended in the revised Act to include repeat violent
offences deemed serious by the judge. The age at which a young person can be
given an adult sentence is lowered from 16 to 14 in the revised youth justice
act. Intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision orders have also been
introduced in the new Act. Designed for youths who have been convicted of
presumptive offences, like murder, intensive rehabilitative custody and
supervision orders instructs that young persons be committed to a continuous
period of intense rehabilitation.
|Youth Criminal Justice Act
Absolute or conditional discharge
Intensive support and supervision order
Order attendance in an approved program at a recognized facility
Custody and supervision order
Deferred custody and supervision order Intensive rehabilitative custody and
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the YOA and the YCJA is with
regard to the publication of young persons identities. Under the YOA,
young persons' names are prohibited from being released, but the YCJA does
permit the disclosure of a young person's identity. A young person's name is
permitted to be published if: i) the youth received an adult sentence, ii) a
youth sentence was imposed for a presumptive offence iii) a youth is unlawfully
at large and deemed dangerous.
Victims and Community
Recognizing the role of victims and the community in addressing youth crime is
unique only to the YCJA. In the Declaration of Principle outlined in the YOA,
the rights of victims are not mentioned; however, the YCJA states clearly that
young persons are encouraged to repair "harm done to victims and the
community" and treat victims with "courtesy, compassion and
respect." Furthermore, under the YCJA victims are permitted to obtain
information on extrajudicial measures and access youth records. Obtaining such
information under the YOA is not so immediate. The YCJA also incorporates the
use of advisory groups or conferences, whose purpose is to advise the police,
prosecution and judiciary on appropriate sentences and conditions for release.
Community agencies, parents, victims, professionals and the young person all
have the right to participate on advisory groups under the new youth justice
The John Howard Society and the Youth Criminal Justice Act
A more restorative model of justice appears to be at work in the new youth
justice act. The inclusion of ideas such as rehabilitation, reintegration,
community involvement, victim rights, and offender accountability, do not echo
the traditional law and order sentiments. Establishing intensive supervision
orders and advisory groups are innovative approaches to youth justice. The Act
also includes clear checks and balances regarding when tough measures can be
used such as requiring that conditions be met prior to imposing harsh measures,
and that reasons be given why other options were not appropriate. While there
is a great deal the John Howard Society can support in the new Act, the Society
did not believe a new Act was needed. It is important to note, as with any Act
in its early stages, the effects of its implementation on the youth justice
system are uncertain. Good legislation can lose its lustre implementation.
|For this Act to have an impact
there has to be a commitment on the part of the province to the Act's purposes
The publication of young persons' names cause some concern. Disclosure of
names is contradictory to the Act's Declaration of Principle which claims to
put "greater emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration." Releasing
young offenders names encourages unfair treatment, defeating opportunities for
amends with victims and the community. Ultimately, the publication of a young
person's name or picture serves no purpose for society or the young person. For
the young person, disclosure could impact his/her employment status, and
frustrate the youth. Humiliating a young person does not address the reason
behind his/her offending. For society, the public receives little protection.
If one does not know the young offender on a personal level, the publication of
his/her identity will have little impact. The names of adult offenders are
broadcasted regularly; how many of us commit those names to memory? There is
also worry with the changes concerning youths receiving adult sentences and
For this Act to have an impact there has to be a commitment on the part of
the province to the Act's purposes and principles. There has to be a commitment
to ensure that the overall intent of the Act is not lost in implementation.
What's New at John Howard Society Red Deer
The Red Deer John Howard Society offers many interesting programs to members
of the various communities located in Alberta. Currently we are able to boast
Criminal Justice Education
Start Taking Action and Responsibility is a program aimed at educating children
in grades 2/3 and 5/6 about the Young Offenders Act, decision-making models, as
well as responsibilities that they may hold within their communities.
Currently, Mark Mercer is operating this program, and is responding to
increasing demand for the program from Red Deer and surrounding area schools.
He is also assisting in the development of an educational program for grades
7/8 and on June 11th he will be running a seminar pertaining to the new Youth
Criminal Justice Act to all interested.
Youth Residential Centre (Y.R.C.) 'Green Bike Program'
The Y.R.C. is a ten bed open custody group home for male offenders between the
ages 12 and 17 who do not present a security concern for the community. For the
past three years the young men at the centre have operated the 'Green Bike'
Community members donate old bikes to the centre and the
teens repair the bikes and paint them green. Once the repairs and the painting
are done, the bikes are placed at various locations across the city, including
city hall and the library. The bikes are there for the use of anyone who needs
them. Last year more than 50 bikes were in use in the City of Red Deer. Other
forms of community service work includes working for various agencies and
businesses throughout Central Alberta, including Kerry Wood Nature Centre,
Joffre Bridge Daysite, S.P.C.A., the City of Red Deer and numerous others over
Victim/Offender Reconciliation Program (V.O.R.P.)
V.O.R.P. is a program offering mediation between a first-time offender and
his/her victim(s) aimed at achieving an acceptable outcome for all concerned.
This particular program has recently improved in business, gaining six new
cases within the past few months. On May 1 - 4 at the Red Deer R.C.M.P station
there was a community group conference workshop, based on a program developed
by the John Howard Society in Saskatchewan. The purpose of this workshop is to
train volunteers on matters that relate to community based conferencing.
Trained volunteers can then assist community agencies and R.C.M.P. in dealing
with situations that require mediation knowledge and skills.
The Red Deer office maintains a volunteer base that shifts and changes
throughout the months. This base consists of volunteers to assist with Bingo's,
V.O.R.P., as well as other endeavours.
|Notice: Please Be
The Annual General Meeting of the John Howard Society of Alberta will be
Saturday, May 29, 1999
Time: 6:00 p.m.
In the Centennial Ballroom,
Sandman Hotel Downtown
888 - 7th Avenue S.W.
The John Howard Society of Alberta "Reporter" is
distributed free of charge to a wide audience of citizens, educators, agencies
and justice system staff. Our goal is to provide information and commentary on
timely criminal justice issues. We welcome and encourage your feedback on the
The John Howard Society of Alberta
is an agency composed of citizens in Alberta who are interested in criminal
justice reform and preventing crime in our communities. We recognize that crime
and its control is as much the responsibility of the community as it is of
We gratefully accept donations to
help offset the costs of our efforts in criminal justice reform and crime
prevention. Donations are income tax deductible. To provide feedback, obtain
information or make a donation, please contact us at:
|John Howard Society of Alberta
2nd Floor, 10523 - 100 Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5J 0A8
Phone: (403) 423-4878
Fax: (403) 425-0008
Visit our website at www.ab.johnhoward.ca to
find 'what's new' and recent research