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Young offender — FAQ

Young Canadians who run afoul of the law can face charges and penalties under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which sets out procedures and penalties for young offenders. Here’s what you need to know.

Who does the Youth Criminal Justice Act apply to?

The YCJA applies to anyone between 12 to 17 years of age who is suspected of committing a criminal act. It doesn’t pertain to minor offences like jaywalking or biking without a helmet. It still applies to someone over 18 if the crime was committed before their 18th birthday.

It was introduced in 2003 to replace the previous Young Offender Act. These laws aim to reduce youth incarceration rates and rehabilitate young offenders, while still providing meaningful consequences for breaking the law.

In that spirit, it requires officers to consider extrajudicial measures before charging an offender.

What are extrajudicial measures?

These are an alternative to court proceedings, typically for first-time offenders committing less serious offences. They would include options like:

  • community service referrals;
  • police warnings;
  • Crown cautions (a formal warning from a prosecutor to avoid further involvement in crime).

These can also include extrajudicial sanctions, which are other conditions the offender must obey or carry out. This could include apologizing to or compensating the victim, attending counselling or performing community service work.

If the officer or prosecutor judges these measures are appropriate, and the youth agrees to any sanctions, the charges are dropped. New charges, however, can be laid if those sanctions aren’t completed.

Can I go to jail?

Yes. The act sets out maximum jail terms for criminal offences. A first-degree murder conviction can earn a 10-year sentence and other indictable offences such as assault, or theft over $5,000, call for a maximum of three years.

Can I be charged as an adult?

Yes, for some serious crimes. Anyone over the age of 14 can be tried as an adult for a serious crime like murder.

Will I have a criminal record?

A youth record is typically destroyed three to five years after the sentence is completed, as long as no other crimes are committed. If probation was involved, it’s three to five years after probation is complete. The length of time depends on the seriousness of the offence.

A record for extrajudicial measures lasts two years as long as no other offence is committed.

Youth records aren’t destroyed once the offender reaches age 18 though; the waiting period still applies.

Read more:

Youth Criminal Justice Act

Youth Justice