The Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”) came into force on April 1, 2003, thus replacing the previously existing Young Offenders Act.

The YCJA provides the rules and regulations that govern the criminal justice system for young persons in Canada. It applies to youth who are between the ages of 12 and 17.

The Preamble and the Declaration of Principle contained in the YCJA set forth the fundamental principles that must guide the interpretation of this Act. Such principles include the following:

  • Society shares a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and the needs of young persons and to guide them into adulthood;
  • The youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by:
    • holding young persons accountable through proportionate measures;
    • promoting rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons;
    • supporting the prevention of crime by referring young persons to relevant programs.
  • The youth criminal system must be separate from that of adults and must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability;
  • Measures taken against young persons who commit offences should:
    • reinforce respect for societal values;
    • encourage the repair of harm done to victims and the community
    • be meaningful for the individual young person given his or her needs and level of development and, where appropriate, involve the parents, the extended family, the community and social or other agencies in the young person’s rehabilitation and reintegration;
    • respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences and respond to the needs of aboriginal young persons and of young persons with special requirements.
  • In addition, the YCJA addresses the following: Extrajudicial measures and sanctions (e.g. warnings, cautions, referrals to programs)
  • Organization of the youth criminal justice system
    • Youth Justice Court, Youth Justice Committees, Conferences, Justices of the Peace, Clerks of the Court, Provincial Directors
  • Judicial measures

Various matters including prosecution, detention before sentencing, appearances, release from or detention in custody, referrals to child welfare agency

  • Sentencing (e.g. pre-sentence report, youth sentences, adult sentence)
  • Custody and supervision
  • Publication, records and information (e.g. protection of privacy of young persons, fingerprints, photographs, access to records)
>> For the full text of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, please visit the Canada Justice Laws Website