In Canada, young offenders are typically regulated and prosecuted separately from adult offenders.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act is a special statute that governs the prosecution of young persons. The purpose of the Act is to prevent youth crime and help young people become responsible members of their communities while understanding the effect of their criminal acts.

The Act applies to youths who are at least 12 but under 18 years old, who are alleged to have committed criminal offences. A child under the age of 12 cannot be charged for a crime. Canada recognizes that youths between the ages of 12 and 17 cannot be held to the same standard and expectation as adults. Youths are considered to have a maturity level that is lesser than adults and as such require specialized treatment. The specialized treatment ensures that young people are treated fairly and their rights are protected in accordance with Canadian law.


The Youth Criminal Justice Act permits youth crime to be resolved outside of the formal court process. This ensures that a young person is held accountable for their actions without having to proceed through the formal court process. Since there is no guilty plea, the Act helps prevent the development of a criminal record at a young age. It gives youths a chance to redeem themselves when a wrong is committed. Further, it allows for matters involving youth offenders to be dealt with in a timely manner.

The following are examples of extrajudicial measures:

  • Police deciding to take no further action to an incident involving a youth offender.
  • Police issue a warning, instead of a charge, following an incident involving a youth offender.
  • Police issue a caution, which is a formal letter, requesting the young offender and potentially his/her parents to attend the station to discuss the incident involving the youth offender.
  • Police refer the youth offender to a community program or agency designed to help youths avoid future offences.
  • Crown issues a caution to the offender after the police refer a case to them.
  • An extrajudicial sanction is a formal program that imposes sanctions on the youth offender involved in an incident.


If a criminal matter involving a young person is not resolved through extrajudicial measures, the youth will be charged and the matter will be dealt with by way of a formal court process. Matters involving youth offenders are heard in a specialized Youth Court. Young persons may be released pending the first trial or they may be held in custody awaiting trial. Specialized Youth Court Judges preside over matters in the Youth Court.


Parents are considered an important party in youth offender proceedings. Police are required, by law, to notify parents of any charges against their child before the matter can proceed in Youth Court. They must be given the opportunity to speak to justice officials and are encouraged to participate in the process for the benefit of the young person.


The Youth Criminal Justice Act outlines special provisions that govern statements taken by police from a young person. Specifically, a young person has the right to speak to a lawyer, parent or other adult before deciding to speak the police. Further, a lawyer or an adult must be present with the young person when a statement is made. Any statement made that is in contravention of the statement provisions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act is inadmissible against the young offender.


When a young person pleads guilty or is found guilty of a criminal offence, the Youth Court must determine the appropriate sentence. The Youth Criminal Justice Act has specific provisions on the sentencing of young offenders which is rather different from the adult sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code.

The fundamental purpose of a youth sentence is to hold the young person accountable for his/her actions by ordering a sentence that focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration of the youth into society. The goal is to prevent young offenders from reoffending. A youth sentence should fit the seriousness of the crime and take into account the maturity of the young person as well as the circumstances of the offence.

There are many sentencing options for young offenders. This includes community based sentences and custody and supervision sentences. Community based sentences are special sentences where the youth serves out his/her sentence in the community usually under strict conditions. Custody and supervision sentences refer to a sentence served at a youth custody facility mixed with community supervision. Jail term sentences are reserved for the most person serious and violent youth offenders and are considered as a last resort. A youth sentence ranges from 2 to 10 years depending on the offence committed.

If you or someone you know is between the ages of 12 and 18 and have been charged with an offence, contact Sack (Q.C.) and Bogle Law today for assistance.