SECTION 2 – THE YOUTH CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
In Canada, when a young person commits an offence, there are a number of possible responses which relate to the seriousness of the offence and whether or not there is a record that the young person has previously committed an offence. Possible responses may be extrajudicial or judicial. Extrajudicial responses to youth crime are administered outside of the formal judicial system and include the Extrajudicial Measures Program and the Extrajudicial Sanctions Program. Judicial responses to youth crime are implemented by the courts and include Probation and Custody. Each of these is described below.
2.1 – Extrajudicial Measures Program
Under the YCJA, police officers are obliged to first consider the least intrusive response to youth crime that is sufficient to hold young people accountable for their actions. The EJM Program is the most appropriate, effective and timely response to youth crime in cases where the offence is non-violent, and the offender has not been previously charged for an offence. In addition, the use of extrajudicial measures attempts to involve the community in addressing the issues of youth crime. A young person who is dealt with by the EJM Program does not acquire a criminal record. This method is considered when youth have committed a less serious offence and the police officer believes that the likelihood of re-offending is low.
Under the YCJA, the EJM Program is administered by police and/or the Crown. Police officers have the discretion to:
- Take no action – Section 6 of the YCJA authorizes a police officer to “take no further action” with young people when appropriate. Police officers can choose not to pursue the case any further.
- Issue a warning – Section 6 of the YCJA authorizes police officers to administer an informal verbal warning to a young person when appropriate, rather than laying charges. In this case, police officers may decide to speak to the young person about his/her action, but take no action beyond that.
- Issue a caution – Sections 6 and 7 of the YCJA authorize police officers to administer a formal written caution to the parents of young people involved, where appropriate, rather than laying charges. In this situation, parents are requested to speak with a police officer. This option is used only when there is sufficient evidence to potentially lay charges.
- Refer the youth to a community program – Section 6(1) of the YCJA authorizes police officers to refer young people to a community program or agency when appropriate, rather than laying charges. In Calgary, a program called “Gateway” was put in place by Calgary Community and Neighbourhood Services (CNS) and the Calgary Police Service (CPS) to ensure that young offenders are referred to relevant programs.
The Crown Attorney can issue a crown caution. Section 8 of the YCJA authorizes a Crown attorney to administer a caution to young people rather than proceeding with a court case. This is similar to a police caution, but it is issued by the Crown Attorney.
2.2 – Extrajudicial Sanctions Program
This level of response is for youth who are accused of more serious offences than those by youth in the EJM Program and require a higher level of intervention although not so serious as to be handled using formal judicial measures. If a young person does not successfully complete this program, he/she will likely go to court and acquire a youth record if found guilty.
The YCJA authorizes the establishment of an EJS Program to deal with cases that are too serious in nature to be effectively dealt with by a warning, caution, or referral to a community program. This program was referred to as Alternative Measures under the previous legislation and helps to divert young people away from the court system. A police officer can recommend to the Crown attorney that young people be referred to this program prior to a charge being laid; a Crown attorney can refer young people to this program after a charge has been laid but prior to court proceedings.
The EJS Program is intended for young people who are first and second time offenders; however, previous involvement with the EJS Program or having been previously found guilty of an offence does not necessarily preclude anyone from being referred to the EJS Program. Rather than pleading guilty, youth are required to accept responsibility for their actions in order to participate in the EJS program. Therefore, participation in the EJS program cannot be used as evidence against a young person in the same case.
The EJS Program recognizes the important role that the community can play in effectively addressing youth crime. It also allows the opportunity for a community-based response to youth crime and gives the community a role in the prevention of and intervention in youth crime. Guidelines for the EJS Program include the following:
- EJS Programs must be established by the Attorney General of the province or someone with similar authority
- All other forms of extrajudicial measures must be considered prior to using extrajudicial sanctions
- The young person must provide informed consent and accept responsibility for his/her actions
- The young person must be informed of his/her right to counsel
- There must be sufficient evidence to proceed with a charge and/or prosecution of the offence
With regard to the EJS Program, the YCJA states that:
- Once a young person has successfully completed participation in the EJS Program, any further legal proceedings (i.e. laying a charge or prosecuting a charge) are dropped
- It is the responsibility of the person who is administering the EJS Program to inform the parent of the sanction
- It is the right of victims to be informed of the progress of their case upon request
In Alberta the EJS Program is administered by volunteer Youth Justice Committees (YJCs) which are sanctioned by the Solicitor General under the CYJA.
2.3 – Probation
This response is for youth who have been found guilty of an offence, and have been sentenced to probation. Probation means that the young person is given conditions by which he/she must abide to remain in the community. Common conditions include a curfew, a restriction on the places the young person can frequent, and reporting to a probation officer. The City of Calgary is somewhat unique in that it has its own municipal cadre of Youth Probation Officers. Provincial Youth Probation Officers serve all other communities in the province.
2.4 – Custody
This response is for youth who have been found guilty of an offence and are not suitable to remain in the community. Custody involves being housed at a youth correctional facility. In Canada, young people usually serve two-thirds of their sentence in custody and one-third in the community in order to reintegrate them back into society. While in the community, the young person is subject to restrictions similar to probation.
For additional information see “The “Young Offender Custody Program”.