Criminal acts are outlined in the Criminal Code of Canada (“Criminal Code”) and are the same for both youth and adults. However, the process for dealing with youth accused of crimes, and the punishments available, are different than those for adults. While youth must still be accountable for their actions, the law takes into account that they are not yet developmentally mature. The law has special processes to ensure youth are treated fairly and places a greater emphasis on rehabilitation than the adult system.
The law that applies to youth accused and convicted of crimes in Canada is the Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”). The YCJA applies to youth from the age of 12 to 17 years old. People 18 years and older are considered adults. The Criminal Code governs the adult criminal justice process. Children under the age of 12 cannot be charged with a crime.
The YCJA came into force in 2003 and replaced the previous law that dealt with youth justice in Canada, the Young Offenders Act (“YOA”). The YCJA has been changed substantially on two occasions: first in October 2012 via the Safe Streets and Communities Act and again in December 2019 via An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendment to other Acts.