The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) was introduced in 2003 to replace the Young Offenders Act. The primary reason for updating the legislation was to reduce the number of incarcerated youth, a punishment that could have a lasting detrimental impact on an individual. YCJA addresses criminal behaviour while understanding that youth can lack maturity and judgment. The YCJA focused on restitution and reintegration, rather than custodial sentences. This is to avoid lasting criminal sanctions that could impact adults resulting from mistakes made as teenagers. In 2012, the YCJA itself was revised to improve compliance with these purposes.

Youth are subject to the same legislation as adults, such as the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. However, the YCJA modifies the court procedures for accused at least 12 years old, but under 18 years of age, as well as provides different options for sentencing and the factors that must be considered. A specialized court handles YCJA cases due to the intricacies of dealing with youth. Below are some common questions regarding the YCJA.

I’m only 14 years old, am I going to prison?

Under the YCJA, all options need to be considered before imposing a custodial sentence. The YCJA limits the use of custodial sentences to only a few scenarios. First, the youth must have committed a violent offence by attempting to, threatening to, or creating a situation that could, cause bodily harm or endanger someone’s life. The second scenario requires the youth to have failed to abide by other non-custodial sentences in the past. And finally, when a youth commits a serious indictable offence that is either preceded by a pattern of criminal behaviour or where the circumstances are so egregious that a custodial sentence is required. Unless your situation matches one of these scenarios, you will not likely serve a custodial sentence.

I’m almost 18. Will I be tried as an adult?

The age of importance is your age at the time of the offence, not your age at the time of trial. If you are under 18 at the time of the offence, you will almost certainly be tried in youth court. In severe cases, where a youth of at least 14 years of age is charged with a serious violent offence, the prosecution can apply to have a youth tried as an adult. In order to do this the prosecution needs to demonstrate that the youth does not have a diminished moral blameworthiness (a presumption with youth) and that none of the potential youth sentences would be a suitable punishment. Also, youth sentenced as adults will be housed in a youth detention centre until they are at least 18 years old.

What happens to my record when I turn 18?

In Canada, youth criminal records are not automatically sealed. Instead, there will be a waiting period (referred to as a period of access) to see if you continue criminal behaviour or if you mature as a young adult who should not be hindered by their youth record. The length of the waiting period depends upon the type of offence and the type of sentence. For summary convictions the period is three years and for indictable offences the period is five years. For absolute and conditional discharges, the periods are one and three years respectively. All waiting periods commence the day the sentence is imposed. Subsequent criminal convictions as a youth within the waiting period will reset clock. If the subsequent conviction is within the period of access, but after you have turned 18, your youth criminal record will become part of your adult record. For serious violent offences, where the youth was sentenced as an adult, the record will be permanent. Therefore, if you avoid criminal conviction until any periods of access are complete your youth convictions will be removed from your criminal record.

To speak with a criminal defense lawyer, contact DDSG Criminal Law today.