SECTION 3 – YOUTH JUSTICE COMMITTEES
3.1 – YJCs In Canada
Section 18 of the YCJA provides an opportunity for citizens to become directly involved in the administration of youth justice by forming Youth Justice Committees (YJCs). The Youth Justice Committee program administers the Extrajudicial Sanctions Program (formally known as Alternative Measures Program (AMP) under the YOA Act). YJC’s are an alternative to the court system for young offenders who have committed less serious offences. YJCs are made up of community volunteers who work with young people in conflict with the law, as well as their families, victims, the legal system and the community, to find appropriate, meaningful consequences for the young person. YJC normally meet at local community halls, schools, churches, and/or police stations.
For additional information please see:
- Alberta Justice & Solicitor General, “Guidelines for Youth Justice Committees” here
- Alberta Justice & Solicitor General, “Youth Justice Committees – Becoming Involved” here
As highlighted below, not all provinces/territories have established a formal Youth Justice Committee program, but most have a community based response in place for dealing with young offenders:
- Newfoundland and Labrador – Approximately 37 YJCs
- Prince Edward Island – Youth Intervention Outreach workers set up circles, mediation, etc. at an early intervention (pre-charge) level. The Aboriginal Justice Program coordinates and facilitates healing and sentencing circles. Community Justice Forums are infrequently facilitated at the Alternative Measures stage within youth and adult justice programs.
- Nova Scotia – 8 community justice agencies and one tribal organization deliver the Restorative Justice Program and Community Service Order Program services
- New Brunswick – no YJCs serving the province; however, there is a Youth Justice Project which provides public education services about the YCJAct and youth crime.
- Quebec – 23 “organismes de justice alternative (OJAs)” which are members of the “Regroupement des organismes de justice alternative du Quebec” (ROJAQ).
- Ontario – Approximately 40 YJCs
- Manitoba – 60 justice committees and several community-based justice programs for youth and adults
- Saskatchewan – approximately 35 Community Justice Committees (CJCs) or similar bodies that implement restorative justice for both youth and adult offenders.
- British Columbia – 74 Community Accountability Programs (CAPs) which deal with low risk youth and adult offenders.
- Yukon – 9 community justice projects implement restorative justice alternatives with both youth and adult offenders. These projects include conferencing, circles, clan based systems, elders boards, and committees.
- Northwest Territories – Community Justice Committees in 32 communities
- Nunavut – Community Justice Committees in most communities
3.2 – YJCs In Alberta
In the province of Alberta, there are approximately 148 YJCs which are made up of community volunteers who implement the EJS Program under the Alberta Solicitor General. These YJCs work with the local police, the court and community corrections, as well as other community agencies including those that provide legal services to the community or manage other social issues, such as the John Howard Society and AADAC, respectively. The legal community – such as lawyers, Legal Aid, social workers and probation officers – also plays an important role with YJCs. Other community groups such as churches and schools are also encouraged to become involved in the work that YJCs do.
In Alberta YJC volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, undergo a Criminal Record Check and take an Oath of Office (to protect the confidentiality of those involved in their cases including fellow committee members).
3.2.1 – Roles and Functions of YJCs
YJCs in Alberta are sanctioned to perform the following tasks, although not all committees perform every task:
Administer the EJS Program
Once a young person meets the requirements, a police officer can recommend that the Crown attorney refer him/her to the EJS Program (pre-charge referral), or the Crown attorney may also choose to refer him/her to the EJS Program (post-charge referral). Even if a young offender is eligible for the EJS Program, a YJC may find that a referral is inappropriate (i.e. members may feel threatened, the young person’s issues may be complex, or the committee may have previously dealt with the young person). In such cases, committee members may choose to return the file to the Crown attorney; this is usually done through the community corrections office. In Calgary, files are managed by the Calgary Youth Attendance Centre.
Provide Sentence Advisory
In the case where a young person has been found guilty of an offence in a youth court, a youth court judge may refer that person to a YJC in order to determine an appropriate sentence.
Generate Public Awareness and Crime Prevention
YJC members can assume a proactive role in crime prevention and crime education. In performing this task, YJC members not only provide education about youth crime issues, but also identify the effects of youth crime on the community, as well as ways in which the community can actively participate in reducing youth crime. YJC members can also be involved in providing materials about the youth criminal justice system, such as changes to legislations, to the community. Some YJC members also engage in mentoring young people.
The work that YJC members perform varies from committee to committee. This flexibility is considered important by the Solicitor General’s office of Alberta so that committees can incorporate any unique aspects of the communities they serve while still adhering to the basic requirements of the YCJA. Despite the difference in YJCs throughout the province, statistics from the Solicitor General reveal a provincial success rate of about 80-90% of youth; that is, success being defined as youth who successfully complete their EJS Program agreements.
3.2.2 – Liability Coverage
Coverage is provided by the Government of Alberta for volunteers only when they are acting in the course of their authorized duties as follows:
- General Liability – Pays damages arising out of third party bodily injury, personal injury or property damage, provided the volunteer is legally responsible to pay and such damages are not intentional. Coverage includes the volunteer’s defence and any interest payments assessed.
- Benefits – Coverage is provided in two areas as follows:
- Accidental Death and Dismemberment – Provides payment in the event of specific injuries or death in accordance with a payment schedule. The maximum benefit available is $50,000 in any one loss.
- Income Reimbursement – Provides payment for loss of income as a result of injury to a maximum of $500 per week for 100 weeks.
Coverage is not available where Worker’s Compensation or other similar employer benefits protection is available through the volunteer’s employer.
Coverage is also provided to youth by the Government of Alberta under the Workman’s Compensation Act for youth, but only in the case of injuries which occur while youth are performing community service hours.
3.2.3 – Support of YJCs
Each CYJC is provided with annual funding from the Young Offender’s Branch to cover the cost of such things as printing, mileage, resources (e.g. books, DVDs), and fees for external conferences/workshops. The Solicitor General also publishes a newsletter and coordinates an annual provincial conference in the fall. With the exception of Calgary, the Young Offender’s Branch provides training and guidance directly to all YJCs in the province from its offices in Edmonton.
3.2.4 – The EJS Process
Eligibility for the program is determined by the Crown Attorney based on the following criteria:
- the young person must have committed an eligible offence
- the youth’s participation in the EJS Program is voluntary
- the young person must accept responsibility for the alleged offence
Eligible offences include the following:
- All Criminal Code of Canada offences except the following:
- Offences involving violence or the threat of violence (simple assault in a non-domestic situation, and threats where there is not a reasonable likelihood to believe that the youth presents a danger to others, may be diverted. A domestic situation does not include minor violence between siblings.)
- Break and enter of a dwelling house;
- Perjury or contradictory evidence; and
- All driving related offences
- Simple possession of marijuana or its products contrary to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. All other drug offences are excluded.
- Provincial Offences:
- Section 78 of the Public Health Act (glue and solvent sniffing)
- Trespass to Premises Act
- Petty Trespass Act
- School Act
- Gaming and Liquor Act
Once the Crown Attorney determines that a youth is eligible and will be diverted to the EJS Program, the file is forwarded to the CYAC where the EJS Program Coordinator assigns it to the YJC covering the community in which the youth resides.
184.108.40.206 – Panel Hearings
The following section describes in some detail how Panel Hearings are coordinated by Calgary YJCs. This may differ somewhat for YJCs in the remainder of Alberta.
The main role of YJCs is to hold individual panel hearings for youth in the EJS Program in which they hear from those involved (i.e. youth, parents/guardian, victims) and identify relevant consequences for the youth to complete within a certain timeframe. Files must be returned to the Crown within four months of being sent out, thus YJCs generally only have between six to nine weeks to work with a case file. In view of this somewhat tight turnaround time, the YJC File manager must contact the youth and his/her parents as soon as possible after receiving the file to:
- explain the role, function and authority of the YJC under the Alberta Solicitor General
- review the reason the case was referred to the YJC
- advise that the youth may bring legal counsel if he/she wishes
Panels are required to have three YJC members, one of whom serves as the Chair of the hearing and is responsible for:
- setting a date, time and location for the Panel Hearing
- requesting that the parents/guardian attend the hearing
- reviewing the details of the file with the other panel members
- contacting agencies (CYAC, police, etc.) if additional details are required
- contacting the victim(s) to explain the EJS Program and the role of the YJC, as well as to gather information about the crime, the type of restitution sought and the victim’s wishes regarding what consequences to assign to the youth
During the Hearing, panel members interview the youth about the offence(s) as well as various aspects of his/her life (e.g. school, family, friends, and involvement with drugs). Once panel members feel they have gathered sufficient information, the youth and his/her parents/guardian are excused and members confer to identify three relevant consequences. Once agreement has been reached, the youth and his/her parents/guardian are brought back into the hearing room and the panel explains the consequences. The youth must agree to the consequences and sign a written contract which must be completed by an assigned date.
220.127.116.11 – Consequences
Section 18 (2) (111) of the YCJA states that:
(2) The functions of a youth justice committee may include the following:
(iii) …ensuring that community support is available to the young person by arranging for the use of services from within the community, and enlisting members of the community to provide short-term mentoring and supervision. It is in this capacity that YJCs are able to connect the young people who come before them to resources within their community.
When determining consequences for a young person, YJCs are urged to consider the unique circumstances of the young person’s life. Consequences should be such that the young person can complete them within a three month period while taking into account possible limitations on the part of the young person such as his/her age, school attendance or access to certain resources (such as money or transportation). Also, while it is the intention that the young person be adequately held accountable for his/her actions, consequences imposed by YJCs should be meaningful but not more challenging for the young person than a court sentence would have been if he/she had gone through the court process. For example, although YJCs can assign up to 60 hours of community service, given that youth court judges rarely assign 60 hours themselves committees usually assign up to a maximum of 30 hours.
The YCJA indicates that sanctions handed down by YJCs should adhere to the following standards.
- Young people should be held accountable for their behaviour
- The rights and freedoms of young people and victims should be maintained during the justice process
- Consequences should maintain the least intrusive methods necessary while still preserving the safety of the community
- The community has the right and responsibly to participate in the youth justice system
- Consequences should be logical and meaningful to young people
YJCs can assign creative consequences which are specific to the needs of the young person. YJCs may only give a maximum of three consequences per referral. It is important to note that there may be more than one referral (offence) in a youth’s file, with a number of associated charges with each referral. YJCs may assign three consequences per referral, not three consequences per charge. (Note: For Calgary YJCs – if there is any confusion over the difference between referrals and charges, please contact the EJS Program Coordinator at (403) 297-7740.) Under the YCJA, the aim of assigning consequences is to:
- Sanction the offending behaviour and repair the damage inflicted (e.g. through community service, apology letter)
- Strengthen the youth’s bond or connection to the community:
- Connect the young person to programs or activities in the community of which he/she was previously unaware.
- requiring the young person to participate in community service in order to give back to the community
- Promote self-esteem and positive behaviour by building on existing strengths or interests (e.g. refer the youth to an artistic, musical or athletic program)
- Target specific areas of concern in the young person’s life (e.g. the young person may be required to attend assessment for drug problems, an anger management program, or a shop-lifting prevention workshop)
A maximum of three of the following consequences per referral may be assigned to the youth by YJCs:
- A letter of apology
- An essay or poster
- Community service to a maximum of 60 hours. (Note: Calgary YJCs normally assign between 10 and 30, as 60 hours is considered quite extreme by the CYAC.)
- A donation to a charity to a maximum of $200
- Restitution to the victim to a maximum $1,000
- Referral to a cultural or religious program
- Referral to a program: YJCs often refer young people to specific programs which target some of their problem behaviours or challenges. In order to make the consequences meaningful, these programs are relevant to the offence which the young person has committed.
- Personal service to the victim in appropriate circumstances where there is no risk of danger to the young person or the victim. (Note: This type of consequence is discouraged in Calgary because of the potential for problems to develop.)
- Other: this includes other creative consequences which are specific and meaningful to the young person’s situation.
18.104.22.168 – Confidentiality
Based on the sensitive nature of the volunteer work involved in a Youth Justice Committee, in Alberta all YJC volunteers are required to take an “Oath of Office”.
Calgary YJC volunteers adhere to the following confidentiality guidelines regarding young offenders/parents/victims and fellow YJC members:
- Never mention the name of the young offender, family members, guardians or victims to anyone outside the Youth Justice Committee, unless they are the police, probation, other justice system personnel, or staff from programs/organizations the youth has been referred to;
- Keep all documents related to cases in a secure place, in a filing cabinet, which can be locked;
- When discussing cases with family members or other members of the community outside the Youth Justice Committee, do not mention names, and ensure that any pertinent details relating to the case, which would enable someone to identify the parties involved, are omitted;
- Use sensitivity if you see the young offender, parent/guardian, or victim in a public place. If asked by someone accompanying you what your connection with any of these parties is, please be discreet. “I’ve seen them around the neighbourhood” might be a appropriate response;
- Keep private any volunteer information you are privy to, as part of the volunteer application, interviewing and screening process. Share this information only with other Committee Members in so far as it is necessary. This may include reference check information and police criminal check results.
- Do not give out any personal contact information (i.e. last name, telephone number, fax number, email, address) of a YJC Member without their express permission in individual cases. This includes volunteer recruitment situations as well as Committee business.
22.214.171.124 – Victim Involvement
Victim participation in the Youth Criminal Justice System is encouraged under the YCJA. However, because of the age of offenders safety of youth must be balanced with the victim’s rights. In accordance with Alberta’s “Victims of Crime Act,” victims are legally entitled to the following information:
- The name of the offender;
- The charge the offender was convicted of;
- The sentence or disposition the offender received; and
- Any sentence or disposition conditions that relates to the victim.
Under the YCJA, it is illegal for victims to release any information about the young offender to the public. Any information beyond that listed above must be requested under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act from Alberta’s Correctional Services
In Calgary, a new initiative is underway to train volunteers in the area victim advocacy. Because training in victim-offender mediation is very in-depth and quite lengthy, it is well beyond the scope of YJCs. As such, victim attendance at panel hearings is discouraged and in cases where victim-offender reconciliation is desirable it is coordinated by professional programs (e.g. Calgary John Howard Society, Calgary Conferencing). To ensure there is victim representation at EJS panel hearings, a trained member of the YJC is appointed to serve as the Victim Advocate. S/he gathers information from the victim, speaks on his/her behalf at the hearing, and follows-up with the individual after the hearing and upon completion of the Sanctions Agreement by the young offender. For additional information, please see the Alberta Solicitor General’s “Victims of Crime Protocol”.
126.96.36.199 – Youth Records
Under the YCJA, early intervention and diversion from the formal judicial system of young offenders who have committed less serious crimes has a high priority because of the serious impact a youth record can have in a young person’s life. A youth record can stay open beyond the age of 18, can restrict travel outside of Canada, and can interfere with enrolment in some education programs and/or keep the youth from getting certain jobs as is highlighted by the following list of who can access a youth record:
- The young person
- The young person’s parents or guardian
- Young person’s lawyer
- The victim of the offence
- The judge, court, review board
- Any peace officer
- Anyone participating in a conference or an Extra Judicial Program (i.e. Measures or Sanctions)
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada
- Parks Canada
- Provincial Correctional Service
- Correctional Service of Canada
- Canadian Customs
- United States Customs
Unsuccessful completion of the EJS Program means that the file is returned to the Crown Attorney with the likelihood that charges or court proceedings will be initiated. Successful completion of the EJS Program, however, helps the young person to avoid having a youth record.
3.3 – YJCs In Calgary
There are 23 YJCs and approximately 300 volunteers in the city of Calgary. CYJCs range in size from 10 to 20 volunteers who typically reside in the communities covered by the committee. Each CYJC operates under a Constitution and an Executive Committee which typically includes a Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and File Manager. Other roles may be designated based on the individual needs/wants of the YJC, but the main role of committee volunteers is to administer the EJS Program with young offenders who have been referred by the Crown.
In Calgary each volunteer receives a minimum of 8 hours of basic training by the Calgary Youth Justice Society (CYJS) and Calgary Youth Attendance Centre. In addition to a Criminal Record Check and Oath of Office, CYJC volunteers are required to undergo a Child and Family Services Child Intervention Record Check. CYJCs are supervised and supported by two agencies which are described in the next two sections.
3.3.1 – The Calgary Youth Attendance Centre
The CYAC operates under the Young Offenders Branch of the Solicitor General of Alberta. The EJS Program is managed by the Coordinator whose main role is to implement and supervise the EJS Program in Calgary. This includes managing certain files at the CYAC (i.e. typically more serious offences), assigning case files to YJCs, and implementing relevant programs and services for youth at the CYAC (e.g. offer a number of in-house courses and work crews, bring youth serving programs and organizations on site such as the Alberta Health Services Youth Addiction Service).
3.3.2 – The Calgary Youth Justice Society
The CYJS is a not-for-profit organization funded by various organizations, businesses and foundations in Alberta. One role of the society is to support CYJCs and it does so by:
- screening and training new volunteers
- providing ongoing volunteer recognition
- developing and delivering ongoing education/training
- coordinating regular meetings for CYJC Chairs
- developing partnerships with community service and youth serving organizations
- educating the public and other stakeholder organizations about YJCs and the EJS Program
3.3.3 – A Strengths-Based Approach
While a major goal of the EJS Program is to sanction offending behaviour and hold youth accountable for their crimes, in Calgary YJC’s are also encouraged to use the EJS Agreement as an opportunity steer youth toward consequences and/or resources which will help guide them along a positive developmental path. Thus, along with sanctions such as community service or writing an essay, youth are referred to youth serving organizations/ programs which reinforce existing, positive assets (e.g. athletic ability, creative pursuits such as art or music, positive interests or hobbies) and/or assist the youth to develop new strengths (e.g. self-esteem workshop, one-to-one mentoring). This is referred to as a strengths-based or developmental assets approach.
The Search Institute has identified 40 developmental assets which include internal and external resources. External assets include such things as family, school, community, other adults, religious/ cultural affiliations, and/or positive youth programs, while internal assets include the youth’s commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity. During the panel hearing, the members identify existing internal/external assets and/or areas in which youth is lacking internal/ external assets, and then assign relevant consequences which rebuild/reinforce/ promote strengths. For a list of development assests and additional information, please see the Search Institute web site. The importance of promoting developmental assets is highlighted in the next section.
3.3.4 – A Profile of Young Offenders in Calgary
In 2008, an interim report regarding young offenders in Calgary was released by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF). The report summarized data collected and analyzed in the first year of a three year study which was conducted for the City of Calgary and Alberta Law Foundation.
One of the main objectives of the study was to identify predictive factors (risk and protective) of offending by youth. The data serve to reinforce the notion that developmental assets play a key role in protecting Calgary youth against offending behaviour. That is, an increase in offending behaviour corresponds to a decrease in assets such as stable family/adult relationships, participation in school, and involvement in positive leisure/ recreational activities. These results correspond to the findings of many other studies in the literature, and highlight the importance of using the EJS Program as an opportunity to build developmental assets in youth. Read the interim report which outlines a profile of Calgary youth who have offended here.