Discussion of the Youth Criminal Justice Act
Edward Prutschi, Criminal Lawyer with Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman of Toronto, discusses the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
In the past, there was a broad perception that the Young Offenders Act, which preceded the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), was not serving to combat youth crime in any meaningful way. The perception was that our response to the problem was primarily to throw young people into jail. The result was overcrowding in jails and putting relatively modest offenders under the influence of more serious hardened youth who were already well on their way to a criminal future. These issues led to a discussion around a smarter way to deal with youth crime.
The criminal system revolves around the ideas of protecting society and rehabilitating offenders. With youth offenders, it’s even more important to intervene early and turn them around so that they have more positive futures. The Youth Criminal Justice Act was a pretty dramatic departure that effectively did a couple of things. It created a host of provisions that made it much more difficult to send a youth involved in a non-serious, non-violent criminal offense to jail or even to have that youth formally charged within the criminal justice system. As a result the YCJA was broadly reported, I think unfairly, as being much softer on youth crime.
I think a fair reading of the Youth Criminal Justice Act shows that for minor youth criminal offenses, it is indeed a lot softer. However, when dealing with violent offenses, there really isn’t any significant softening up of what penalties used to be for those circumstances. The Youth Criminal Justice Act actually allows for more serious penalties and scenarios where there is extreme violence and recidivism. In response to the concerns of the Young Offenders Act, the YCJA, helps take those kids who are salvageable and who are really just starting to dip their toes into criminal society and very quickly turns them onto something else. We shouldn’t introduce them to the worst of the worst at their age group, because that will almost certainly mean that they will follow along rather than turn themselves around.
As we fast forward to today, I think there’s certainly been some success in that regard. The statistics bear out the fact that there are fewer youth charged in general. Minor offenses are dealt with more commonly outside of the criminal justice system, often by some sort of diversion.
On the other side, there is a perception among the public that youth crime is once again out of control and that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is too soft. The proposed answer is to introduce a tougher set of regulations and to try more of the accused as adults and not to be so quick to remove them from the criminal justice system. So while there’s nothing on the order papers right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if, before the end of our new government’s term, we don’t see some tweaks to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and perhaps some very dramatic changes to it. Certainly, the way the act is being applied is somewhat different now as well. If you’re facing serious charges as a youth, even if it’s your first time facing serious youth charges, you’re likely to be dealt with as seriously as the Youth Criminal Justice Act permits.
If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with criminal law issues in the Toronto, Ontario Region, contact Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman for a consultation.