Principles of the Act

In Depth

What is the YCJA?
The YCJA is an act that governs the administration of justice for youth who commit crimes. The YCJA replaced the Young Offenders Act (YOA) on April 1st, 2003 and was amended in October 2012 via the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

It was amended again in December 2019 via An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendment to other Acts.

What is the Declaration of Principle in the YCJA?
The Declaration of Principle sets out the policy framework for the interpretation of the YCJA.  The emphasis is on the protection of the public.

Why do we have the YCJA?
The YCJA applies to youth between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. A person is considered an adult at the age of 18 and a person under the age of 12 cannot be charged with a crime.  The YCJA treats youth different from adults because of:

  • Increased  level of dependency
  • Maturity
  • Development

How does the YCJA deal with youth crime?
The YCJA is intended to:

  • Protect the public
  • Prevent crime
  • Rehabilitate and reintegrate youth in the community
  • Ensure that youth have meaningful consequences for their crimes

The YCJA requires that youths be treated separately from adults and that it be recognized that youths have diminished moral blameworthiness.  When dealing with youth, there must be an emphasis on:

  • Rehabilitation and reintegration,
  • Fair and proportionate accountability,
  • Enhanced procedural protection,
  • Timely intervention, and
  • Prompt enforcement.

What are "meaningful consequences?"
Meaningful consequences are things done to help youth understand the impact of their actions and fix the harm done to others.  Measures to deal with youth crime should:

  • Address the crime
  • Be fair and in line with the crime
  • Be meaningful to the youth
  • Reinforce respect for societal values
  • Help repair the harm done to victims and the community
  • Respect gender, ethnic, cultural, and language differences
  • Involve the family, the community, and other groups
  • Respond to the needs and lives of Indigenous youth and youth with special requirements

What rights and freedoms do youth have?
Youth have due process rights, including the right to be heard and participate in decisions that affect them. They also have the rights and freedoms under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Are there any special considerations in respect of proceedings under the YCJA?

The YCJA recognizes the following:

  • Youths have rights and freedoms in their own right,
  • Victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect,
  • Victims should be provided with information about the proceedings, and
  • Parents should be informed or measures or proceedings involving their children.

What does the YCJA emphasize?

  • Rehabilitation and reintegration
  • The importance of timely intervention

What is rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation addresses the problems that led the youth to commit the crime, so that he or she does not commit further offences.

What is reintegration?
Reintegration deals with the issue of how the youth can fit back into his or her community.

What role do parents and victims play?
Parents and victims are important. The youth criminal justice system aims to inform parents, the victim and the community about the process, and to encourage parents to participate in addressing the youth’s criminal behaviour.

What changes were made to the YCJA in 2012?

The Safe Streets and Communities Act came into force in 2012 and included changes to the YCJA that impact the principles of the YCJA. The previous principles focused heavily on the youth, but now the principles also focus equally on protecting the public. The changes also provide more structure to ensure that youth are dealt with in similar ways for similar offences across Canada.

What led to the changes?

The 2012 amendments were based on recommendations from the 2006 NUNN Commission of Inquiry Report. The report was written about a 2004 Nova Scotia case in which a 16 year old with no criminal record but with a pattern of stealing cars, ran a red light in a stolen vehicle and killed a woman in the intersection. The report asks the question: How could this have happened? The previous inflexibility of the Act meant that the Crown was not able to succeed in detaining this youth despite the fact that he was facing numerous charges just two days prior to the fatal car accident. There was much discussion generated from this report, the outcome which resulted in the October 2012 amendments.

What changes were made to the YCJA 2019?

On December 18, 2019, further amendments to the YCJA came into force with the goal of strengthening the current approach to Youth Justice and to reduce the amount of charges for administration of justice offences (such as breaches of bail conditions). The amendments aim to further encourage the use of alternatives to charging young people with an offence, reduce unnecessary and restrictive bail and sentencing conditions, limit the use of jail sentences, and increase Youth Court efficiencies. See Clicklaw’s Recent Amendments to Canada’ Youth Criminal Justice Act for a summary.