Chapter Four: Law and Education

4.10 The Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is a federal legislation that deals with criminal justice for youths aged from 12 but not yet 18. This legislation, passed by the House of Commons on February 2, 2002, replaced the Young Offenders’ Act. It outlines the federal framework for dealing with youth criminal justice in terms of extrajudicial measures, organization of the youth criminal justice system, judicial measures, youth sentencing, custody and supervision of offenders, and publication, records, and information. What is perhaps most important in understanding the measures outlined in the act is its articulation of the rationale for interpretation, which is found in the preamble. The Department of Justice Canada, in its summary of the Youth Criminal Justice Act <>, paraphrases the preamble by suggesting that the act is underpinned by the following values:

  • Addressing the needs of youth is a social responsibility;
  • Collaborative partnerships between communities, families, and others to address the underlying causes of youth crime with a focus on prevention, guidance, and support;
  • Publicly available accurate information about youth crime, the youth justice system, and effective measures;
  • The recognition of rights and freedoms of youth including those found in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of the Child;
  • Taking into account the rights of victims, and to promote accountability through meaningful consequences, rehabilitation, and integration; and
  • Reducing the over-reliance on incarceration.

An example of how these values may be enacted was exemplified in the case of a 15-year-old girl from Saskatoon who pleaded guilty to assaulting a 14-year-old teenager in a beating near some elementary schools where over 100 youths had gathered to watch a series of student-organized fights (CBC News, 2005). The beating was caught on video and circulated via the Internet. A sentencing conference was held to examine the root cause of the incident for the girl, who had no prior criminal record. Those who are invited to attend such conferences typically include the judge, lawyers, a probation officer, a moderator, the families of the accused, and the victims.

However, the YCJA does also uphold the possibility for youth to be liable for an adult sentence if the youth is over the age of 14 and the offence is such that an adult would be liable for imprisonment for more than two years. In 2019, for example, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal upheld the adult life imprisonment sentence with no chance of parole for 10 years for the youth responsible for the school shootings in Laloche, Saskatchewan in 2016. At the time of the murders, he was 17 years old.

The provisions of the YCJA have major ramifications for the ways in which teachers and administrators work with youth offenders; victims of youth crime; individuals and/or organizations outside of education who have an interest in the prevention, sentencing, rehabilitation, and/or supervision of offenders; and how privacy and records are managed.


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