The uses to which this funding is to be put are described on the web site of the Canadian Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness1 as follows:

The funding supports Canada's new government's commitment to help communities prevent youth crime with a focus on guns, gangs, and drugs. The funding will be allocated as follows:

  • $11.1 M to create a Youth Gang Prevention Fund at the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC); and
  • $5 M to enhance the Youth Justice Fund at the Department of Justice.

The Youth Gang Prevention Fund provides funding for anti-gang initiatives in communities where youth gangs are an existing or emerging threat. It supports the development and implementation of local interventions aimed at youth who are in gangs or at risk of joining gangs.

Under this fund, the NCPC works with provinces and territories to identify those communities most affected by gang-related problems. Funding will be directed to community-based organizations and municipalities that are addressing these issues.

The enhancements to the Youth Justice Fund will support initiatives to implement tailored approaches for individual youth identified by the justice system or by their parents/legal guardians as currently or likely to be involved with guns, gangs and drugs.”

For more than a decade, the John Howard Society of Alberta and various Local John Howard Societies in Alberta have from time to time engaged in projects funded by the NCPC, and it is indeed welcome to see the majority of this new funding directed to assisting youth being administered by the NCPC.

It is within this context that the two (2) proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act [YCJA], appear to be in complete contradiction. For what is being proposed is that:

  • The age at which a young person may be tried in adult court and receive an adult sentence, for certain “serious or violent crimes” be lowered from 16 years to 14 years (perhaps even 13 years or 12 years); and
  • The decision whether to have a matter tried in adult court be within the exclusive purview of the Crown Prosecutor [as, for example, the decision whether to proceed by summary conviction or indictment in hybrid offenses rests exclusively with the Crown Prosecutor], rather than with (as it presently is) the presiding Judge.

As to the second of these proposals, it is clear that if enacted, this provision has the potential to produce considerable disparity (i.e.: inequality) in the way in which children coming before the Courts in Canada are treated. It will mean that whether a child is tried and sentenced as an adult will rest entirely at the whim of the Crown Prosecutor having conduct of the case. Now of course, we are not so naïve as to suggest that the Attorneys General in each Province and Territory will leave the matter entirely up to prosecutorial discretion – certainly they will establish policies that will guide how such cases are handled.

But we must remember that there is considerable difference of political philosophy at the provincial/territorial level in Canada – what the Attorney General of Alberta might decide is an appropriate policy may vary quite considerably from that considered to be appropriate by the Attorney General of Saskatchewan, or British Columbia, and so on. With the inevitable result that a child facing prosecution in Saskatchewan will almost certainly be treated differently than the child facing the same circumstances in Alberta, or B.C. or wherever else in Canada. Further, and in some respects even more fundamental, it necessarily means that any decision as to whether a child is to be tried as an adult will be based on policy (or political expediency) rather than on law – for if it is to be based on law, then by our constitution that is within the sole jurisdiction of our judges.

“How”, it might be asked, “can this possibly be viewed to be in accord with the rule of law that is the very foundation of our democratic society?”

As to the first proposal, that which precedes it in this discussion clearly demonstrates that there is no conceivable justification in logic – it flies in the face of according responsibilities with rights. Quite simply, children will not have any of the rights of adults, but are to be treated as if they are adults if they fail to abide by standards set for, and by, adults. It is clearly an abrogation of the “social contract” insofar as such may be said to apply to all (including children).