These ideas will help you explore the YCJA in depth. You can complete the activities for a classroom assignment.
1. Work with a partner and another team to prepare a debate on the following topic:
BE IT RESOLVED that the law should allow youth as young as 14 to receive adult sentences for serious violent offences including murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault.
Present the debate to the rest of the class and have them decide who has argued the topic more effectively.
2. Read the following scenario and complete the activities that follow.
Flames of Frustration
Joey’s birth mother was an alcoholic who drank heavily while she was pregnant with Joey. Joey was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Joey’s mother abandoned him in a northern BC hospital shortly after his birth. He was taken by the Superintendent of Family and Child Services when he was 10 days old and he has been a ward of the government ever since.
A caring foster family raised Joey until his foster mother became too ill to do any more fostering. Joey was 14. His new foster parents didn’t understand Joey’s needs very well. Joey needed a lot of structure in his daily life and the new family couldn’t provide it. Joey got into trouble with the law and ended up in a group home in a rural interior area of the province.
Joey managed quite well in the group home until there were a lot of staff changes. He then became confused and frustrated. In fact, he tried to start a fire under the home porch, hoping he would be sent away from the place. However, another resident put it out and the staff didn’t do much more than express anger at Joey.
However, one evening, while all but a couple of the boys were asleep, Joey set another fire. He removed the fire extinguishers from the home, pushed a couch against one of the doors, doused the place with kerosene and torched it. Most of the residents were awakened and escaped but one teenager died.
In court, a psychiatrist who interviewed Joey explained that the brain of a child afflicted with FAS is injured before birth. She went on to say Joey displayed many of the characteristics of individuals with FAS. Here are some of them:
- He is easily frustrated
- He is quick to anger and the extent of his anger often seems out of proportion to the event that caused is anger
- He is extremely impulsive
- He does not learn by being told what to do or not to do
- He is immature for his age
- He has difficulty relating cause and effect
- He has no ability to grasp abstract concepts
He lives only for the present and does not consider future events
Read the actual result.
This case was tried under the Young Offenders Act. Joey was transferred to adult court on a charge of second-degree murder. He was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to time in an adult corrections facility. There, the older inmates brutalized Joey until the Ombudsman became involved and had him removed.
If you were the judge, what sentencing option would you use? Would you consider giving an adult sentence? Does the fact that Joey has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome affect your decision? Present your answers to the class.
Hold a mock sentencing hearing, with students acting the roles of judge, Crown, defence counsel, probation officer, psychiatrist and the victim’s parents.
3. Generally, the law that regulates the youth criminal justice system in Canada is the same in every province. Under the YCJA, the provinces have been given authority to decide to have some provisions apply to different age groups. For example, the province can choose the age at which the presumption for an adult sentence applies.
Recently in BC, the provincial government introduced legislation called the Youth Justice Act. It is not yet in force, but it will allow for custody of youth who:
- Fail to comply with a youth sentence
- Bring contraband into or trespass on youth custody or correctional centre grounds
- Help someone leave a mental health facility unlawfully
- Trespass on school grounds
- Do not follow a protective intervention or restraining order
- Drive while prohibited or with a suspended licence
Why do you think the new legislation was enacted? Do you think it follows the same principles of the YCJA? Research the Act by searching www.legis.gov.bc.ca and www.gov.bc.ca. Write a report on your findings and present it to the class.