The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is the law that governs the youth justice system in Canada. It applies to youth who are at least 12 but under 18 years of age who are alleged to have committed a criminal offence. If a youth is charged with a crime, the YCJA applies which guarantees the rights of young people in the criminal justice system.

The law recognizes that it is important to keep youth out of the criminal justice system and the goal of the YCJA is rehabilitation instead of punishment. However, if the crime is serious and the young offender has a previous criminal record, prison time may be imposed by the court. Youth cases take place in special Youth Courts that are presided over by Youth Court judges. 

The YCJA focuses on fair and appropriate sentencing for youth. The purpose is to hold young persons accountable for their actions and to also ensure meaningful consequences to promote rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The YCJA system intends to protect the public by supporting the prevention of crime by referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community to address their underlying behavior and reasons for offending. 

The criminal justice system is made especially for young persons that is separate from that of adults because it is based on the principle that young offenders are less blameworthy or culpable than adult offenders. In particular, the YCJA focuses on:

  • Rehabilitation and reintegration
  • Fair and proportionate accountability 
  • Enhanced procedural protection to ensure young offenders are treated fairly and their rights are protected
  • Prompt and timely intervention that reinforces the link between offending behavior and consequences 
  • Reinforcing respect for societal values


There are more sentencing options available for youth offence cases. The purpose of sentencing is to hold the youth accountable through meaningful consequences. The sentence should be the least restrictive alternative available and should promote a sense of responsibility and acknowledgment of the harm done. Sanctions other than custody should be considered for young persons, with particular attention to circumstances where Aboriginal youth have committed a crime. Extra-judicial sanctions are available to young offenders who have committed a less serious crime. Extra-judicial sanctions are conditions that a youth must fulfill to recognize his responsibility for a crime. They are fulfilled outside of the court process and are only available if the young offender admits responsibility for the offending behavior. An example of this would be writing an essay, community service work or issuing an apology. 

If your child has been charged with youth offences, it may be a difficult process that affects the entire family. If you or a loved one has been charged with a youth offence, contact our criminal lawyer at Brace Law today.