Recent amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Youth criminal justice act YCJAAlthough covered little by Canadian media, the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act under the Safe Streets and Community Act came into force yesterday in Canada.   The October 23, 2012 date marked a significant shift away from the present state of affairs for criminal justice for Canadian under the age of 18 and over the age of 11.

What the YCJA amendments change:

According the Government of Canada website, these amendments will, among other things:

  • highlight the protection of society as a fundamental principle of the Youth Criminal Justice Act;
  • simplify pre-trial detention rules to help ensure that, when necessary, violent and repeat young offenders are kept off the streets while awaiting trial;
  • strengthen sentencing provisions and reduce barriers to custody where appropriate for violent and repeat young offenders. Specifically, the legislation will be amended to:
    • add “specific deterrence and denunciation” to the principles of sentencing to discourage a particular offender from committing further offences;
    • expand the definition of “violent offence” to include behaviour that endangers the life or safety of others; and
    • allow custodial sentences to be imposed, where appropriate, on youth who have a pattern of findings of guilt or extrajudicial sanctions.
  • require the Crown to consider seeking adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious violent crimes such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. Provinces and territories will maintain the discretion to set the age at which this requirement would apply;
  • require the courts to consider lifting the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of “violent offences,” when youth sentences are given;
  • require police to keep records when informal measures are used in order to make it easier to identify patterns of re-offending; and
  • ensure that all young offenders under 18 who are given a custodial sentence will serve it in a youth facility.

The Government also provides a detailed backgrounder can be found on the Department of Justice Canada’s Web site.

What do all the changes mean under the YCJA?

The question for defence lawyers is what does this mean for young clients facing criminal charges.  The most significant changes as I perceive them is that is greatly broadens what is considered a “violent offence” as defined under section 39(1)(a) of the Act.  This will no doubt have wide reaching implications as it relates to the rest of the Act and many of the treatment of young persons is predicated on whether or not the offence is “violent”.   It also allows the Courts to consider specific deterrence and denunciation for youths, something previously held inapplicable for young people.

The amendments are considerable and in effect it will not doubt result in many more youth across this country being held in custody both at the pre-trial and the post-conviction stage of the proceedings.