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Criminal Law

Youth Criminal Justice

Offences committed by youths falling between the ages of 12 and 17 are governed by the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). In addition to Charter rights, youths are given special rights under this Act. Although youths are charged through the Canadian Criminal Code in the same way as adults, they are sentenced using unique principles and procedures and are tried in specialized Youth Courts. 

As set out by the YCJA’s Preamble, the emphasis in a youth trial is to rehabilitate and reintegrate so as to optimize the youths’ future opportunities in society. This includes: addressing the circumstances underlying the behaviour, ensuring fair and proportionate accountability, protecting the offenders’ identity and recognizing the effect that gender, ethnicity, culture, language and special needs may have had on the behaviour.

If you are a youth charged with a criminal offence or the parent or guardian of a youth that has been charged, it is important to know that young persons are deemed to be dependent on their parents or guardians. As such, parents or guardians play an important role in youth cases. 

Before any case can proceed in Youth Court, the parent or guardian of said youth must be notified that their son or daughter is being prosecuted. Additionally, police cannot take statements from a youth that has requested the presence of their parent or guardian. Youths also must be notified of their rights to remain silent as well as their right to be represented by legal counsel in writing.

Youths are entitled to privacy protections beyond the scope of what adults can expect. The identity of a youth before, during and after criminal proceedings will always be protected, even if that youth is found to be guilty of the crime for which they were charged. In most cases, any record of a youths’ criminal offences or convictions remain sealed for the remainder of their lives. However, if the same youth commits further criminal offences within a provided time period, this right can be revoked.

Youth offences can cover all crimes listed in the Canadian Criminal Code. What makes youth criminal justice different is that there are a host of possible resolutions for youth offences and a greater range of sentences available to Youth Court judges. 

The first course of action in youth justice is to decide whether a warning or caution is enough to reinforce societal values and respect for the law. If the offence is of a more serious nature, it is possible that extra-judicial sanctions will be sought, wherein a youth will be made to recognize responsibility without having to make a guilty plea. For the most severe cases, it is possible that incarceration time will be sought. However, youths do not spend time in adult jails or prisons until they reach the age of 18. 

In Canadian society, it is generally accepted that young people do not understand the seriousness of their actions to the degree that adults are expected to. Further to that belief is that youths are more susceptible to rehabilitation and reintegration, which is why the Canadian criminal justice system applies special rules to youth cases. A thorough understanding of the YCJA is key to securing justice and ensuring that the aforementioned rights are upheld at every stage of the proceedings. 

If you are a youth or the parent or guardian of a youth that has been charged with a criminal offence, Vishal Sharma understands the complexities of the YCJA and the sensitivity involved in handling these types of cases. Call Vishal Sharma to learn more about what you can expect in a youth criminal justice case and how he can help you.

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