Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Research Papers

Volume 4

A Comparative Analysis of Youth Justice Approaches

A Report Prepared for the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence

Tullio Caputo and Michel Vallée

Centre for Initiatives on Children, Youth and Community
Carleton University

Executive Summary

This is one of four papers commissioned in the fall of 2007 by the Ontario Review of the Roots of Youth Violence. It provides a brief overview of the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA); the Young Offenders Act (YOA); and the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). In this discussion, we consider various questions related to the development of youth justice in this country. In support of this analysis, we examine how various Canadian provinces (Québec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia) have implemented the YCJA. We also discuss existing Canadian data on the operation of the youth justice system including police and youth court statistics related to charges, dispositions, recidivism, and diversion. An overview of the youth justice systems of selected western nations (England and Wales, France, United States, and Scandinavia) is also provided in order to compare their approaches with our own.

The methodology used to complete this work included a systematic review of relevant literature, in-depth interviews with provincial youth justice representatives, police officers and youth service providers; an analysis of reports and other relevant materials identified through the interviews; and an analysis of police and youth court statistics available from Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Several patterns and recurring themes emerged during our research. Many western nations developed separate youth justice systems at the beginning of the twentieth century. In Canada this was evident with the passage of the Juvenile Delinquents Act of 1908. The forces present in Canada at the time were also visible in other western nations. These included two competing concerns: i) the notion that children were different from adults and needed care and protection; and ii) rates at which youth were being charged with crimes were rising and the authorities were under pressure to respond.

After World War II, the child welfare and crime control concerns which had sparked the introduction of the original youth justice legislation re-emerged. The rates at which youth were being charged with crimes were rising, prompting calls for increased crime control measures. At the same time, child welfare advocates pressed for a rehabilitative approach. Labelling theory and the “de-institutionalization” movement of the early 1970s saw an increase in the use of diversion and community alternatives.

By the middle 1970s, however, the “nothing works” idea became popular, supporting those who called for minimal state intervention and a “just deserts” approach. As well, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, children’s rights activists criticized the enormous power of the youth court and the lack of due process safeguards available to young people. These forces led many western nations to revise their youth justice legislation. In Canada, this was evident with the passage of the Young Offenders Act in 1982.

The calls for change, however, did not end with the introduction of new legislation. Public concerns over rising youth crime and youth violence helped to politicize youth justice. After several rounds of amendments, the Young Offenders Act was replaced in 2003 by the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The pressure for change did not end there, since amendments to this legislation are currently being considered. The Youth Criminal Justice Act intended to reduce the use of custody for minor offences, since Canada had one of the highest youth custody rates in the western world. At the same time, the Act includes harsher measures for those young people convicted of serious and repeat offending.

Interviews with provincial and federal youth justice representatives and a review of available materials indicate that since the Youth Criminal Justice Act was implemented, the number of youth charged has decreased substantially. So, too, has the number of youth receiving custodial sentences. Additional resources have been directed at community alternatives for youth, including community service orders and restorative justice measures. As well, more resources have been devoted to young people in the youth justice system with mental health and substance abuse problems.

An analysis of police and youth court statistics shows that since the mid 1990s, the rates at which youth have been charged with crime have been slowly decreasing, despite slight increases in 2003 and 2006. At the same time, several tragic incidents of youth violence, coupled with sensationalized media coverage, have politicized the issue of youth violence far beyond what is supported by the statistical evidence. The media frenzy has been driven by events occurring in a few major urban centres, including Toronto. In many ways, this has led to the demonization of youth.

Police charging practices have changed considerably under the YCJA. More and more young people are being dealt with through extrajudicial measures and sanctions, and the number of youth referred to court has also dropped. This indicates that the police and Crown prosecutors are focusing on more serious crimes. We also observed a fundamental shift in the sentencing of youth under the YCJA, with custodial sentences decreasing. However, a large number of youth are still being given custodial sentences for non-violent crimes, despite the YCJA provisions regarding the use of custody.

The patterns observed in Canada are similar to those we noted in other western nations. Several key trends are visible, which have had a profound impact on the nature and operation of youth justice systems in these countries. First, there has been an uneasy relationship between child welfare and crime control in youth justice legislation since separate youth justice systems first appeared. The emphasis in youth justice has alternated between the two approaches, depending on the social, economic and political climates of the countries involved.

Second, increasing rates for youth charged with crimes have led to calls for more emphasis on crime control and harsher punishments. This has resulted in amendments, and in some cases, the introduction of new youth justice legislation. At the same time, public perceptions of the nature and extent of youth crime have been higher than is warranted by the statistical evidence. This, too, has had an important impact on youth justice.

Third, in addition to concerns over child welfare, there has been ongoing attention paid to children’s rights. While early gains in this area led to the introduction of due process safeguards, there has been a tension associated with children’s rights insofar as they have an impact on the right of the public to be protected from the misdeeds of youth. Many of the jurisdictions we looked at have tried to balance child welfare, children’s rights and the protection of society. Again, the nature of the consensus on these issues has varied in relation to the social and political context of particular jurisdictions.

Fourth, there has been a steady move away from the child welfare approach that inspired early youth justice legislation toward a more adversarial, criminal court approach. This has come about largely in response to concerns over youth violence. As a result, there is pressure to move toward harsher and more punitive sentences. In Canada, this has been seen in the creation of longer sentences and presumptive offences for serious and repeat offenders. However, some jurisdictions, including the United States, are beginning to move away from this approach, since harsher sentences have not resulted in the types of outcomes that were expected. Interestingly, many jurisdictions are adopting a more holistic approach and developing a comprehensive continuum of services, including community-based treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration. This reflects a recognition that they must address the root causes of crime rather than respond only to its symptoms. As well, they are putting additional resources into mental health and drug abuse treatment programs for youth. In Canada, we discovered that many of the young people in conflict with the law are facing serious mental health and substance abuse issues.

Fifth, in most of the jurisdictions we examined, youth justice has been increasingly politicized. This is due to both public concerns over perceived increases in youth crime and youth violence and to sensationalized media accounts of tragic but isolated incidents. The Bulger case in England, the revolt of second-generation immigrant youth in the “banlieues” in France and the school shootings in the U.S. and Canada are examples of the incidents influencing the debate over youth justice. In the United States, for example, this has led a number of jurisdictions to lower their minimum age waivers so that harsher punishments are available for younger people. In Canada, public fears have kept youth justice near the top of the policy agenda. This has led to a significant public and political reaction, which has reverberated throughout the justice system. The data reviewed in this paper indicate that this is a complex problem requiring careful analysis. It is too easy to define the problem on the basis of what is going on in only a few large cities.

Finally, the balance between child welfare, children’s rights and the protection of the public has resulted in an uneasy compromise in Canada as well as the other western nations. In Canada, the YCJA has led to harsher punishments for serious and violent young offenders as well as fewer charges, fewer custodial sentences, and an increase in the availability and use of community alternatives for those involved in less serious offences. A similar pattern is visible in England and Wales, France, Scandinavia, and the United States. However, the pressure for harsher and more punitive responses has not abated. Such a move is being resisted in most countries by the people who work with and provide services to young people. They understand that we must address the root causes of crime if we are to have a positive impact on youth crime and violence.


This is one of four papers commissioned in the fall of 2007 by the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence. This paper provides an overview of how youth justice legislation in Canada has developed since the 1970s. This is compared with approaches in other countries (England and Wales, France, the United States, and Scandinavia) with broadly comparable systems of justice. A synopsis is also provided of the youth justice approaches used in recent years in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The specific focus here was on the way these provinces have designed and implemented their youth justice systems and on what is known about victimization rates, reported youth violence levels, and recidivism rates in these jurisdictions. Finally, these four jurisdictions were contrasted with one another and with available information from other jurisdictions with respect to issues surrounding youth violence.

It is clear that during the time period in question, Canada's youth justice legislation has undergone a number of significant changes. These began in the 1950s when criticism over the existing Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA) began to grow. Discussion and debate continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s, until, in 1982, the JDA was replaced by the Young Offenders Act (YOA). In the years that followed, several amendments were made to this legislation, until it too was replaced, in 2003, by the current Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). In the process, youth justice in Canada has been fundamentally altered.

Despite two new pieces of youth justice legislation since 1982 and several amendments along the way, debate over youth justice in Canada has continued unabated for over three decades. Many of the issues that led to the original calls for change are still with us today. More importantly, however, the focus of Canada’s youth justice system has shifted away from its original concern over the care and treatment of young people toward an increasingly harsh and punitive approach that focuses more narrowly on their criminality. Ironically, while those young people charged with the most serious crimes are being dealt with more severely, the legislation has also led to efforts to provide a broader and more comprehensive set of community-based alternatives for youth involved in less serious offences.

In Part I of this paper, we provide a synopsis of the major changes that have been made to Canada’s youth justice legislation since the 1970s. In the process, we examine the context within which these changes were made, the issues driving the changes and the intended outcomes. We also consider research and statistical evidence related to the operation of the youth justice system, to try to better understand the issues that have influenced the ongoing public debate over youth justice during this period.

Building on this analysis of the history of legislative change, a brief overview is provided in Part II of how various Canadian provinces have implemented the YCJA. We examine, in particular, what they have done in response to concerns over youth violence and consider the strategies that have been developed to prevent young people from becoming violent in the first place. This review is followed by a short description of a few initiatives supported by Justice Canada aimed at reducing youth violence. An assessment is also provided of statistical information available on the operation of the Canadian youth justice system, including police and youth court data related to charges, dispositions, recidivism, and diversion. We then explore how various western nations with youth justice systems similar to Canada’s have responded to these issues in order to compare their approach to our own. We conclude with an assessment of what we have learned in the process of completing this work. In particular, we reflect on the nature of the changes that have been made to youth justice legislation since the 1970s; the impact they have had on the youth justice system; and the implications that can be drawn regarding the future of youth justice in this country.


The specific objectives of this research paper included the following:

  1. Provide a synopsis of the development of Canadian youth justice legislation since the 1970s.
  2. Provide a synopsis of the youth justice approaches used in recent years in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
  3. Compare the approaches taken in these four jurisdictions with respect to their relative capacity to reduce the rate of violent crime involving youth.
  4. Compare Canada’s legislative approaches with those of four western nations (England and Wales, France, the United States, and Scandinavia) with broadly comparable systems of juvenile justice.

Methodology and Data Sources

In order to successfully complete this research paper, a multi-faceted approach was used to gather the different types of information required. The specific activities undertaken are outlined below. They included the following:

1. A Focused Review of Relevant Literature and Related Documents

The core activity of this project involved a focused review of relevant research literature and related documents on the youth justice system in Canada and in comparable jurisdictions. This literature review was based on our own papers and reports as well as our extensive collection of materials related to youth justice. As well, a search was conducted of electronic data bases (available through Carleton University) and of federal and provincial government youth justice-related websites.

2. In-Depth Interviews With Key Informants

A series of in-depth interviews was completed with key informants from Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, as well as from Justice Canada. This research received ethical approval from the Research Ethics Committee at Carleton University. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with federal and provincial youth justice representatives, law enforcement officers, and youth service providers. The interviews with the provincial and federal youth justice representatives lasted from sixty to ninety minutes, while those with law enforcement officers and youth service providers lasted approximately thirty to forty-five minutes. The interviews were conducted by telephone and extensive notes were taken. Each of the respondents was asked to provide any relevant documentation. Once a draft summary was completed of a particular jurisdiction in Canada, it was sent for comment to the provincial representatives we had interviewed. The structured interview guides used to conduct this research are provided in Appendix I, while a list of those interviewed is provided in Appendix II.

Part I:

Youth Justice Legislation in Canada since the 1970s

The Juvenile Delinquents Act

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the threat of increasing levels of street crime focused attention on the working classes and their children (West 1984). These concerns were exacerbated in the late 1880s by the arrival of some 75,000 homeless British “waifs” and “street urchins” who came to Canada over a period of forty years or so. During this era, juvenile offenders were dealt with in the same manner as adults and held in the same institutions. The “child savers,” as they are known, deplored this situation and fought for the establishment of a separate and distinct system of justice for young people. Eventually, their efforts (known as the Children’s Court Movement) led to the passage of the Juvenile Delinquents Act in 1908. This legislation would define the youth justice system in Canada for the next seventy-four years.

A parens patriae approach to children and youth was institutionalized by the JDA such that the juvenile court was to act as a surrogate parent when the family or school failed. The key provisions of the legislation were based on the underlying notion that decisions were to be made by the juvenile court “in the best interests” of the child. Children could not be detained in the same place as adults but had to be kept in special institutions designed exclusively for them. Importantly, the JDA provided judges with almost absolute authority over the lives of the young people who appeared before them.

Children were not found guilty of a specific offence, but rather were adjudicated as juvenile delinquents. This usually resulted in their being placed in the care of provincial child welfare authorities. Consequently, the type of crime (violent or not) was not the prime focus of the treatment and rehabilitative intervention they received. Their state of delinquency was. In this regard, the JDA contained provisions that applied only to children, which were known as status offences. These included such things as sexual immorality, vice and incorrigibility. However, while these status offences did not represent crimes per se, the potential consequences of a finding of delinquency under the JDA were considerable. The juvenile court could intervene in the lives of young people from the time they were seven, and in some cases, until they reached twenty-one years of age. As well, no formal appeal procedures existed under the JDA to challenge the vast discretion exercised by the juvenile court.

Any child found to be a juvenile delinquent became a ward of the court until he/she was discharged by the court or reached age twenty-one. The provincial child welfare authority administered these dispositions and decided the type and length of intervention, including whether placement in a secure or open residential facility (usually a training school) was necessary. The recommendation of the provincial child welfare authority was a key factor in the juvenile court decision because children could be brought back to court at any time. Children found to be in a state of delinquency were deemed to be suffering from a “maladie’” from which they needed to be cured. Indeterminate treatment and rehabilitative services were used in this respect and their nature and extent were the responsibility of the provincial director of child welfare.

Concepts such as diversion, community alternatives and restorative justice did not exist under the JDA. Juvenile Court Committees were mandated to provide general advice and guidance to the youth court; however, the Act did not refer to diversion or screening per se. The police (who in most instances also served as de facto prosecutors) were expected to exercise their discretion and screen out the cases that did not require the court’s attention. However, in 1926, the Act was amended to include a provision called “adjournment sine die,” which was to be used as a type of diversion mechanism. This finding allowed a juvenile court judge to adjourn a case indefinitely and let the young person be dealt with informally while retaining the option of returning the youth to court if warranted. In Ontario, formal diversion programs utilizing the “adjournment sine die” disposition began to be piloted during the mid-1970s (e.g., Kingston, Windsor, etc.). In Québec, the 1979 Youth Protection Act (QYPA) significantly limited the capacity of the police to exercise discretion in charging youth. In fact, the vast majority of the cases that were diverted through “voluntary measures” were decided by the Director of Youth Protection (DYP). As Bala and Corrado (1983) note, some of the QYPA dispositions that were implemented across the province might have been legally questionable under the JDA.

The last important amendment to the Juvenile Delinquents Act was in 1929. During the next twenty years or so, the only meaningful youth-related activities that occurred were in regard to youth crime prevention initiatives, most of which were spearheaded by the RCMP. While the JDA did not make reference to preventing youth crime per se, support for such an approach can be inferred given its particular focus on rehabilitation and treatment. Preventing children from committing delinquency was an appropriate goal of the legislation. The RCMP Gazette and documents produced by the Ministry of the Solicitor General of Canada provide some information on the nature of crime prevention efforts during this period.

During the 1940s, crime prevention was characterized by several themes, including the prevention of juvenile delinquency. Crime causation (home environment; mental development; not being able to attend school; facing unemployment) and acting out were the main concerns of the RCMP. Kelly and Kelly (1973) suggest that from the mid-1950s to the late1960s, the primary concern of the police, and the RCMP in particular, shifted away from prevention to other priorities such as drug trafficking, organised crime, white-collar crimes, spies, politics, and security. It wasn’t until a major conference in Toronto in 1965 that interest in youth crime prevention was renewed. This occurred at about the time that the MacLeod Committee (see below) tabled its report on juvenile delinquency in Canada. Participants at the conference and the members of the Committee reached a similar conclusion on increasing crime rates and the role that youth were playing in this increase.

By the late 1950s, concern over increasing juvenile crime rates brought the operations of the juvenile justice system to the publics attention. At the same time, the extensive powers available to the court came under scrutiny, since critics charged that despite its enormous powers, the juvenile justice system failed to prevent delinquency or to rehabilitate delinquents. By the late 1960s, pressure to change the juvenile justice system mounted as many of the practices that existed under the JDA were undermined by various court decisions related to youth rights.

The first comprehensive effort to examine the issue of juvenile delinquency in Canada began in 1961, when the Diefenbaker government created the MacLeod Committee which submitted its report in 1965. Importantly, it did not recommend significant modifications to the key provisions of the JDA. However, its recommendations did not generate much support with practitioners and youth workers. In 1967, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling (In re Gault) provided young people with many of the due process safeguards already available to adults. This created pressure in Canada to enact similar changes. The federal government in Canada, however, would not table new youth justice legislation for several more years.

Concerns over children’s rights underscored many of the challenges levelled at the JDA. For example, status offences were criticized since they applied only to juveniles. Furthermore, the substantial variation that existed across the country in the maximum age of juvenile delinquents meant that young people could be treated differently for the same offence depending on where they lived. The lack of appeal procedures and the limited due process safeguards available to youth under the JDA were also questioned. Finally, the JDA allowed the court to intervene in a young person’s life to a far greater extent than was possible for an adult charged with the same offence (Hudson et al., 1988:5).

These and related criticisms of the JDA prompted the government of the day to introduce new juvenile justice legislation. On November 16, 1970, Bill C-192, An Act Respecting Young Offenders and to Repeal the Juvenile Delinquents Act, was introduced in the House of Commons. It was given second reading on January 13, 1971. The proposed legislation sought to respond to the criticisms levelled at the JDA by emphasizing children’s rights while simultaneously maintaining a social welfare orientation toward children’s needs. Despite the modest nature of the proposed changes, Bill C-192 was met with a torrent of criticism. The Bill was called a new Criminal Code for children and described as “the most punitive, enslaving, vicious and tyrannical piece of legislation that has ever come out of the Legislative grist mill” (House of Commons Debates January 13, 1971:2374).

In the face of considerable opposition, Bill C-192 was left to die on the order paper. However, concerns over increasing levels of youth crime and demands for children’s rights continued to characterize the public debate over youth justice. Various consultations and legislative proposals were undertaken by the government, which sought to satisfy both the proponents of children’s rights as well as those who were more concerned with crime control issues. In the legislative proposals that were eventually developed, the prominent role given to children’s rights provided the basis for a compromise that had been lacking in Bill C-192. The proposals that emerged included dropping status offences and confining the juvenile court to dealing with young people who violated the Criminal Code. Due process safeguards were to be implemented to protect children’s rights and minimize arbitrary treatment at the hands of juvenile justice authorities. The proposed legislation shifted the focus away from children’s needs to children’s crimes, and from rehabilitation to the protection of society.

A detailed report entitled Young Persons in Conflict With the Law was submitted in 1975 by a Solicitor General of Canada committee. This report took into account the changing political and ideological climate of the time. A series of consultations were undertaken between 1975 and 1977 in order to strike an acceptable political compromise. The result was new draft legislation that appeared in a document entitled Highlights of the Proposed New Legislation for Young Offenders, which was tabled on March 21, 1977. The defeat of the governing federal Liberal party placed the initiative for juvenile justice reform in the hands of the newly elected Progressive Conservative government. In 1979, this government tabled a document entitled Legislative Proposals to Replace the Juvenile Delinquents Act, which was essentially the same as the one that had been introduced two years earlier by the Liberals. This proposal would eventually become Bill C-61, An Act Respecting Young Offenders and to Repeal the Juvenile Delinquents Act. Parallel to these efforts, in 1979 the Government of Québec passed their Youth Protection Act, which included a number of provisions (including the right to counsel for delinquency-related charges) that mirrored those in the proposed new federal legislation. These ultimately found their way into the final version of Bill C-61.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, criticisms about the existing juvenile justice legislation in Canada revolved around several issues, including

  1. the inability of the legislation to either prevent crime or rehabilitate offenders;
  2. the lack of due process safeguards;
  3. the over-reliance on indeterminate sentences;
  4. the inconsistent application of the law across the country;
  5. the variable maximum ages that existed across the country;
  6. the tensions that existed between child welfare and legal principles; and,
  7. the potential for the JDA to be inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was about to be implemented.

The Young Offenders Act

The Young Offenders Act attempted to strike a balance between the needs, rights, and responsibilities of young people on the one hand and the protection of society on the other. This balance was articulated in an unprecedented preamble included in the legislation called the Declaration of Principles. The rights of young people were acknowledged in the Preamble, including their right to retain independent legal counsel. A series of due process safeguards were also introduced, which were counterpoised to society’s right to be protected from the criminal misdeeds of young people.

The YOA emphasized individual responsibility and the protection of society. It moved the youth justice system away from the social welfare philosophy that had informed juvenile justice policy for the better part of the twentieth century. While the JDA blamed the child’s environment for their state of delinquency, the YOA recognized that young people (adolescents) were responsible for their illegal behaviour but not in the same way as adults. This was referred to as “mitigated responsibility.” The Declaration of Principles stressed the special needs of young people and the fact that they should not be dealt with in the same manner as adults.

The YOA provided a range of dispositions, which were much wider than those available under the JDA and which essentially reflected those available for adults. The youth court was required to consider pre-disposition reports, representations and any other relevant information prior to sentencing, especially when considering a custodial disposition. The dispositions included: forfeiture, prohibitions, fines (up to a maximum of $1,000), compensation, restitution, community service (to a maximum of 240 hours), probation, treatment, and custody up to a maximum of three years. While restorative justice approaches were not mentioned specifically in legislation, it was clear from the range of community alternatives that the YOA provided many more opportunities for community intervention than the JDA.

Custodial sentences were to be decided by the youth court and consisted of two kinds: open and secure. Secure custody was considered a measure of last resort under the YOA, to be used for young offenders fourteen years of age or older involved in serious crimes, and for twelve-or thirteen-year-olds in exceptional circumstances. Under the YOA, detention was intended to ensure the safety of young persons and of society while minimizing the exposure of young persons to adult criminals.

A controversial aspect of the YOA was the question of transferring cases to ordinary (adult) court. While transfer under the JDA was based on the judge’s authority, it took a different form under the YOA. The YOA provided that a youth court could order a transfer taking into consideration the interests of society and the needs of the young person. At its inception, the needs of the young person superseded the interest of society. This eventually changed, however, as the Act was amended over time.

The introduction of a uniform age for young offenders under the YOA was also contentious. Under the JDA, young persons could be subjected to different types of treatment, depending on where they lived. The demands of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for universality and uniformity made this disparity untenable. When the YOA was proclaimed in April 1984, the minimum age of criminal responsibility was set at twelve and the maximum age at seventeen. The Uniform Maximum Age provisions of the Act were not proclaimed until a year later, however, to give provinces time to make necessary arrangements.

The compromise that led to the passage of the YOA reflected the type of political compromise that was possible at the time. However, many issues remained unresolved and the government had to continually address criticisms directed at the legislation. For example, numerous critics charged that the legislation was too punitive. Complaints about the legislation also came from the police, the provinces and advocates of child welfare regarding its administration. As a result of mounting criticisms, a series of minor amendments to the YOA were passed in 1986. The most important of these allowed a youth court judge to authorize the publication of the identity of a youth where the young person posed a danger to self or to the public or was being sought for apprehension. The changes also allowed the youth court to impose consecutive sentences where the young person had committed another criminal act after having been previously charged. As a result, the aggregate sentence a young person could face could exceed the three-year maximum established under the YOA.

At its inception, the YOA did not focus on preventing youth crime or youth violence. While the Declaration of Principles discussed youth accountability, rights, special needs, the protection of society, and roles and parental responsibilities, the issue of prevention was not discussed until 1995. The 1995 amendments to the YOA added two new principles. The first espoused a multidisciplinary approach to preventing crime, while the second asserted that the protection of society is best served by the rehabilitation of young persons. These principles appeared in conjunction with the federal government’s efforts to promote crime prevention through social development as a means of focusing on the root causes of crime. In a sense, crime prevention through social development represented an acknowledgment of the notion that had existed under the JDA, namely that youth delinquency is greatly influenced by the general living environment and the social-economic context in which children and youth find themselves (i.e., family, schools, peers and neighbourhoods).

In the latter part of the 1980s and early 1990s, non-governmental organizations provided much of the leadership in crime prevention, along with some political stimuli. This political impetus was based on international pressure brought by some European countries, including France and England, who had joined efforts to promote the “Safer Cities Approach.” Here, the community is seen as the focal point for effective crime prevention activity, encouraging problem identification and resolution through inter-agency, citizen, and business community partnerships.

Another internal force was the work of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General. From November 1992 to February 1993, this committee undertook a national study on crime prevention. The report, called Crime Prevention in Canada: Towards a National Strategy (the Horner Report) recommended that Canada develop and promote a national strategy to reduce opportunities for crime and to respond to underlying factors contributing to crime (Canada: 1994). Additionally, the Horner Report recommended the promotion of a national strategy involving partnerships and information-sharing among all levels of government, all agencies in the criminal justice system, and non-government organizations and special interest groups.

Also, given the growing interest in preventing crime and in prioritizing children and youth as the focal point of social development efforts, it was not surprising that the federal government of the day encouraged a multi-faceted approach to preventing crime by inserting its crime prevention philosophy into the Declaration of Principles in the 1995 amendments. However, it is worth mentioning that the focus of these crime prevention efforts were not limited to youth violence, since one of the prevailing views within the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention was that most of the children and youth demonstrating delinquent and criminal characteristics were initially victims of their living environment and influenced by the root causes of crime.

The pressure to change the YOA did not end with the amendments made in 1986. A series of sensational cases involving the commission of violent crimes by young people generated considerable support for further change. These criticisms were voiced by the public and the police as well as provincial authorities. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the problem of youth crime was at the centre of political debate in Canada, particularly with respect to making youth justice policies tougher. Hogeveen and Smandych (2001) note that many western governments became committed to a law and order approach during this period and subsequently made their youth justice legislation harsher and more punitive. They believe that this is what happened in Canada. Pushed by the Canadian public and members of the opposition political parties, the federal government attempted to deal with the perceived crisis in youth crime by taking steps to enact tougher youth justice legislation.

Importantly, while the media profiled the increases in youth crime during the early 1990s, they did not emphasize the subsequent decreases that took place later in the decade. According to Carrington (1999), Canada’s experience during this period was not unique. He states that “in retrospect, the short term ‘hump’ in Canadian youth crime rates in the early 1990s was also evident in other countries (Du Wors, 1997 and Kong, 1997) and therefore, not explainable by the workings of the YOA” (cited in Tanner, 2001: 226).

While some critics charged that the YOA was too lenient, official statistics showed a sharp increase in custodial dispositions for youth. In a 1993 evaluation of the YOA, Moyer found that the only discernable and statistically reliable correlation that could explain the increased number of young people referred to youth court and sentenced to custodial dispositions under the YOA was the increased level of police charging and formal processing that was taking place. This view was echoed in a number of other studies that found that the police were charging more and not exercising their discretion as much as they had prior to the enactment of the YOA (Doob and Meen, 1993; Carrington and Moyer, 1994; Carrington, 1999; Carrington, 2001). This was an important, if unintended, consequence of the YOA. It reflected, in part, the changing perceptions and response of the police to their role in the new youth justice system.

Schissel (1997) analyzed official juvenile crime rates and noted that despite the YOA’s articulation of diversion and alternative measures as policy objectives, more young offenders were being handled formally — by arrest and institutionalization — since the legislation was proclaimed in 1984-85. Further, Schissel, like Corrado and Markwart (1992) before him, argues that rather than making the juvenile justice system more balanced, the YOA in practice imposed more control on adolescents than its predecessor. On the other hand, Corrado and Markwart (1994) agreed with critics who insisted that the small number of serious habitual criminals were being treated too leniently by the youth court; too few were transferred to adult court and insufficient use was being made of long custodial sentences. Corrado and Markwart point out, however, that the paradox was that the YOA was both too lenient and too harsh.

As for the increase in youth violence, youth crime statistics did show a significant increase in youth charged with violent crimes after 1986. This was particularly evident between 1989 and 1993, after which the increase in violent crime rates levelled out. A number of observers have pointed out, however, that looking at the statistics in a more detailed or comparative context presents a less dramatic view of youth violence. As noted above, many supported the view that the increase in the rates of youth charged with crimes reflected changes in police charging practices. The introduction of school zero-tolerance policies also contributed to this phenomenon (Bell, 1999; Tanner, 2001; Carrington, 2001).

A further examination of official statistics on violent youth crime shows that public perceptions did not match the empirical evidence. Bell (1999) reported that the homicide rates where young offenders were the accused were no higher in 1997 than they were in 1974. Similarly, both Silverman (1990) and Silverman and Kennedy (1993) found no increase in the per capita rate of youth homicide in Canada between the 1970s and the 1990s, even if the rates were higher in 1974. Bell (1999) notes that in 1986, there were thirty-eight homicide cases and these accounted for 0.03% of all young persons charged by the police that year. By comparison, in 1993-94, thirty-nine young people were charged with murder or manslaughter, which represented 0.03% of all youth court charges in that year.

In addition, while the proportion of violent crimes increased from 9% in 1986 to 18% in 1994 in terms of overall youth-related criminal offences, Bell and others have pointed out that about half of the young people charged with violent crime were charged in connection with minor assaults (1999:29). Bell (1999) also suggests that while the homicide rate in 1997 was higher than in the previous year, it was lower than it had been in the three preceding years. In addition, Schissel’s examination of the ratio of youth to adult charges compared with total incidents from 1973 to 1995 showed a dramatic increase in youth charged for violent offences after the YOA was implemented. This suggests that youth were processed through the justice system for violent offences in greater numbers than adults (Schissel, 1997:80-81). The implication is that either young people suddenly became inherently more violent than adults during this period or that the justice system was dealing with youth differently.

The YOA was also criticized for having done little or nothing to curb the problem of repeat offending. Using the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics 1998-1999 Youth Court Survey data to illustrate this concern, the data reveal that 42% of the cases heard in youth court involved young recidivists. However, this is a common pattern not unique to the YOA. Indeed, as Tanner (2001) points out, studies carried out in other jurisdictions also show a high rate of recidivism and that both adult and youth courts are sentencing many people they have sentenced before.

Leonard and Morris (2000) note that the public was increasingly vocal about the need for changes to the Act. They state, “It would seem that the level of public involvement in the debate, the level of anger and hostility toward the legislation, and, the specific nature of the calls for reform were difficult for the government to ignore” (Leonard and Morris, 2000: 127 cited in Winterdyk, 2000). Based on this level of criticism, it was not surprising that in 1992, the federal government enacted further amendments to the YOA. This time, the changes were more significant because they focused on lengthening the maximum sentence for murder from three to five years, and on facilitating the potential transfer of youth to adult court by stating that the protection of the public was to be the paramount consideration in the transfer decision (Bala, 2005).

Three years later, more amendments to the YOA were introduced in Bill C-37, which included a two-part strategy to reform the youth justice system; the next step was to involve a Parliamentary Committee Review (Department of Justice, 1994:1, cited in Leonard and Morris, 2000). Bill C-37 was proclaimed on December 1, 1995. It contained provisions for

From the mid-1990s onwards, the rates for youth charged with crimes began to decline and continued to do so until the YOA was replaced in 2003. However, the Canadian public continued to believe that youth crime in general and youth violence in particular was increasing. With respect to the issue of transfer to adult court, it is evident that the new provisions had little if any impact on the operation of the youth court, since the rate of transfer to adult court was unaffected by them. Transfers to adult court remained steady between 1984 and 2003, accounting for less than 1% of all cases. It seems that the 1995 amendments to the transfer provisions had more to do with creating the impression that the legislation was being toughened rather than with what actually happened in practice.

Bala (2005) suggests that as Canadian politics became more conservative, there was a continued demand to adopt a “get tough” approach to youth crime. As well, he points out that with its “law and order” agenda, the Conservative-Reform party pressed for major changes to many criminal laws, including those related to youth. As the demand for tougher laws and harsher sanctions continued, so did the high rate of incarceration of young people. Most young offenders who were placed in custody under the YOA, however, were there for non-violent offences. Ironically, by the late 1990s, Canada had one of the highest youth incarceration rates among western nations; higher even than the United States (Hornick, et al., 1996).

Despite several rounds of amendments to the YOA, Leonard and Morris (2000) note continued calls for a further toughening of the Act. Hogeveen and Smandych (2001) argue that there was a growing perception that new legislation was needed to replace the YOA. In 1997, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs issued its report entitled Renewing Youth Justice, which contained fourteen recommendations for overhauling the youth justice system (Canada: House of Commons, 1997). In the spring of 1998, the federal government released its report entitled A Strategy for Youth Justice, in which it recommended replacing the YOA with a new Canadian Youth Criminal Justice Act (Canada: Department of Justice, 1998). Hogeveen and Smandych (2001) point out that both of these reports recommended that the “protection of society” should be the main goal of youth justice legislation, and specifically, that legislation should be aimed at dealing more severely with violent young offenders.

When the then Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, tabled the Youth Criminal Justice Act, she stated that its intention was, “to respond more firmly and effectively to the small number of the most serious violent young offenders” (McLellan, 1999). She noted, however, that the federal government had made too much use of custody for young offenders who had not committed serious violent offences. This issue would also be addressed under the new Act. With this introduction, the federal government signalled a fundamental change in the approach taken to youth justice in Canada.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act

After much debate, the Youth Criminal Justice Act was proclaimed on April 1, 2003. Its objectives include the following: to prevent crime; rehabilitate and reintegrate young persons into society; and ensure meaningful consequences for offences. The Declaration of Principles also states that the needs and individual circumstances of a young person should be taken into account in determining the nature of the response to an offence. However, these should not result in longer or more severe penalties than would normally apply to adults, indicating that the youth justice system should not be used to meet social welfare objectives.

An important change in the YCJA requires the police to consider all possible options when dealing with young offenders before proceeding formally and laying charges. Similarly, Crown attorneys have to make an effort to screen out those young offenders who do not require formal processing through the courts. They, too, are to consider extrajudicial sanctions, including formal community alternatives. While the YCJA allows for the referral of a young person to a child welfare agency for assessment (s. 35) with respect to the need for child welfare services at any stage of proceedings against a young person, the Act also recognizes that pretrial detention is not to be used as a substitute for child protection, mental health or other social measures.

Custody under the YCJA is reserved primarily for violent offenders and serious repeat offenders. Before imposing a custodial sentence, however, the court must consider all reasonable alternatives to custody and must determine that there is no reasonable alternative that would be capable of holding the young person accountable in accordance with the purpose and principles of sentencing. Some concerns, however, have been raised with respect to the limit and scope of the definition of a “violent offence” under this legislation, especially after a 2005 Supreme Court decision which provided some clarification on this issue. The Supreme Court ruled that for an offence to be deemed a “violent offence,” it had to cause or threaten to cause bodily harm.

In general, the sentencing options that were available to the court under the YOA were retained in the YCJA. However, the YCJA contains additional options regarding custody orders, non-custodial sentencing options and sentencing for serious violent offenders. The YCJA replaced the usual custody order with an order of custody and supervision. This new sentence requires that the custodial portion of a sentence be followed by a period of supervision and support in the community. In addition, new sentences were added to the YCJA, such as reprimands, intensive support and supervision orders, attendance centre orders (for day centres), deferred custody and supervision orders, and intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision orders. The latter order is a special sentence for serious violent offenders. The court can make this order if the young person has been found guilty of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault, or has a pattern of repeated, serious violent offending; the young person is suffering from a mental or psychological disorder or an emotional disturbance; an individualized treatment plan has been developed for the young person; and an appropriate program is available and the young person is suitable for admission. This is an important new sentencing option because of its potential impact on specialized child welfare and youth mental health facilities, which could conceivably provide such services if they are designated by provincial authorities.

Under the YCJA, the transfer process to ordinary court that existed under the YOA has been eliminated. Instead, the youth court may make a determination that a young person should be given an adult sentence depending on a predetermined set of criteria. A pattern of repeat, serious violent offences and/or one or more presumptive offences (i.e, first-and second-degree murder, attempt to commit murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault, and a serious violent offence (for which an adult is liable to more than two years of imprisonment) can give rise to the presumption of an adult sentence. Under normal circumstances, the Crown must indicate its intent to seek an adult sentence at the beginning of the proceedings. However, in the case of a presumptive offence, the accused young offender is deemed to be an adult and must show cause as to why he/she should be treated as a youth. In some instances, such as the case where a young person has been previously found guilty of at least two serious violent offences, the Crown prosecutor can seek permission from the court to impose an adult sentence before the sentencing process has begun.

The age at which the presumption of an adult sentence can apply was lowered to fourteen. However, provinces have the authority to set the age at fifteen or sixteen. The effect of this is that if a province chooses to set the age at sixteen, there would be no change from the practices that applied under the YOA. If the Crown notifies the youth court that it will not be seeking an adult sentence for a presumptive offence, the court may not impose an adult sentence. The test for an adult sentence requires the court to determine whether a youth sentence would be of sufficient length to hold the young person accountable. The accountability of the young person must be consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity. If a youth sentence would be of sufficient length to hold the young person accountable, the court must impose a youth sentence. A young person under age eighteen who receives an adult sentence is to be placed in a youth facility unless it would not be in the best interests of the young person or would jeopardize the safety of others.

Prior to the Act coming into force, the Government of Québec launched a Reference case before the Québec Court of Appeal challenging the constitutional validity of a number of the provisions of the YCJA. While it rejected most of the arguments, the Québec Court of Appeal did rule some of the provisions that deal with the application of presumptive offences for fourteen-and fifteen-year-olds unconstitutional. In addition, while not making a definitive statement about the general application of the presumptive offences for sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds, it did question its constitutionality.

In March 2006, the Ontario Court of Appeal (OCA) reconfirmed the Québec Court of Appeal (2003) decision with regard to an actual case involving the offence of manslaughter. The issues in the case related to the constitutionality of the reverse onus provisions with respect to presumptive offences (and the related publication issue) and the question of who should assume the costs related to the appeal process. The OCA was asked to review a youth court decision that rendered the reverse onus provision unconstitutional, partially based on the Québec Reference Case. The OCA agreed with the Ontario trial judge and ruled that the reverse onus provision was unconstitutional, and it ordered the Crown to pay the respondent’s costs of the application. The case is presently under review by the Supreme Court of Canada. Bala (2005) points out that the principal effect of these decisions, and the federal government’s reaction to them, is that the specific provisions of the YCJA that were most directly aimed at “toughening” the response to serious youth crime were ruled unconstitutional.

Two of the more important goals of the YCJA are that the youth justice system should reserve its most serious interventions for the most serious crimes and that it should reduce its over-reliance on incarceration for non-violent offenders. The Act provides stringent guidelines as to who should be considered for a custodial disposition and ensures that there is some post-incarceration follow-up to facilitate the reintegration of young offenders into the community. It also provides for more treatment opportunities for those young offenders who need them, including the possibility of a referral to child welfare services [s. 35] and the intensive rehabilitation custody and supervision order [s. 42.2 (r) and s.42.7] for those involved in serious criminal behaviour who exhibit mental health problems. In addition, the inclusion of a parole-like mechanism within the custodial order should facilitate meeting the treatment needs of the young offender. Similarly, while the Act might encourage better links between the child welfare and youth justice system, it also recognizes that pretrial detention is not to be used as a substitute for child protection, child mental health or other social measures [s. 29(1)]. The YCJA’s policy intent is that referral for service assessment is quite different from encouraging or ordering placement in child welfare facilities. The Act might encourage the former, but it does not permit the latter.

The YCJA puts significant emphasis on restorative justice and the use of community alternatives, both pre-and post-disposition. It directs the police and Crown attorneys to use their discretion through extrajudicial measures and extrajudicial sanctions respectively. It promotes the use of conferencing to encourage the involvement of the community and the use of community alternatives. As well, it provides for a full range of community alternatives, such as restitution, compensation, community service orders, intensive probation supervision and non-residential attendance centres.

The YCJA promotes the prevention of youth crime through specific references in both the Preamble and the Declaration of Principles. The Preamble states, “Whereas communities, families, parents and others concerned with the development of young persons should, through multi-disciplinary approaches, take reasonable steps to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, to respond to the needs of young persons, and to provide guidance and support to those at risk of committing crime.” This is an important statement, since it suggests four key messages with respect to crime control: (1) a focus on the root causes of crime; (2) collaborative efforts; (3) a recognition that many young offenders were victims at one point of their lives; and, (4) society has the right to protect itself, but it might be better served in the long term if it guided and supported those young persons with the greatest needs. These goals are also reflected in the Declaration of Principles [3 (1) (a) (i)] by reaffirming the need to “prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person’s offending behaviour.”

Part II:

The Implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act

in Selected Canadian Jurisdictions

Youth Justice in Alberta

Alberta did extensive planning in anticipation of the implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They reviewed and updated provincial legislation and provided training to all stakeholders, including the police, probation, and treatment centre workers. Jurisdiction over youth justice matters in the province is split between the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General and the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Public Security. The Ministry of Justice and Attorney General is responsible for, among other things, Crown prosecutors, youth justice committees, extrajudicial sanctions, and the Aboriginal Court Worker Program. The Ministry of the Solicitor General and Public Security is responsible for police in the province as well as youth corrections. An Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision program was established, and attendance centres were opened in both Edmonton and Calgary to meet the requirements of the new legislation. They also developed policies and procedures around the new sentencing options available under the YCJA, including Intensive Support and Supervision programs. A major development in the province was the establishment of youth justice committees to handle extrajudicial sanctions and other responsibilities.

The Provincial Court of Alberta deals with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It also addresses matters related to: Criminal, Family, Youth, Civil, and Traffic. The Criminal Court generally deals with criminal offences; the Family Court handles most Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act matters and certain custody and maintenance disputes; the Youth Court hears matters under the Youth Criminal Justice Act; the Civil Court handles civil claims where the amount claimed does not exceed $25,000; and the Traffic Court primarily hears matters under the Traffic Safety Act. All provincial court judges may hear any of the foregoing matters. Sitting justices of the peace hear matters in Traffic Court. The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta is a superior court of civil and criminal jurisdiction. It holds jury trials for both criminal and civil matters (including decisions by the Youth Court under the Youth Criminal Justice Act) and can hear some appeals from the Provincial Court as they apply to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and civil matters, and it can hear civil trials for damages regardless of the amount. It also handles matters such as divorces, adoptions, foreclosures, and bankruptcies, in addition to matters relating to wills and estates.

Applications under the Dependent Adults Act are also made in the Court of Queen’s Bench. The Court of Appeal can hear most civil and criminal appeals, and can also hear applications and appeals respecting certain judgments, orders, and decisions of the other courts, including decisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The provincial representatives we interviewed noted that those working in youth justice saw a great potential in the objectives of the new legislation. They felt it provided an opportunity for them to move forward, especially in the area of custodial dispositions. Importantly, the development and implementation of the YCJA came at a time when there was considerable activity under way in the province with respect to children and youth services. Specifically, the Alberta Children and Youth Initiative (ACYI) had been generating a lot of discussion about how they were dealing with children and youth. As a result, service providers in the province recognized they had to work together to better coordinate and provide services.

Their IRCS process is probably the best example of how they are dealing with violent or dangerous young offenders. The significant aspect of the IRCS program is that it has influenced the way the rest of their youth justice system operates. In IRCS cases, they begin with a thorough assessment and then develop a plan for the client (even before the sentencing stage). Two case coordinators monitor the young person throughout the process and ensure that the plan is current and being applied properly. They bring in people from all parts of the system in order to provide an integrated and comprehensive package of services to IRCS clients. The rest of the youth justice system has seen how the IRCS process is working and there has been a very positive response to the process, to the point that, now, it would be followed even without additional funding. They currently have four IRCS cases before the courts. They hope to expand the lessons learned in IRCS cases to the rest of the system.

Alberta responds to youth violence in each community, in part through the enforcement activities of the police. Some police agencies in the province have established specialized units to deal with youth violence and they are being more proactive in sharing information and intelligence in order to make their response to violence more effective, especially as this relates to youth gangs. Alberta is also attempting to coordinate its activities and information-sharing right across the system and involve other criminal justice and community partners.

Alberta has also developed crime prevention programs that address various aspects of youth violence. They provide numerous community grants to support local crime prevention efforts. While some of these are focused specifically on youth violence, others focus on early intervention, education, public awareness and youth engagement strategies. These grants have also been used to fund anti-bullying programs in schools. School bullying has been especially important in the province as a result of the Taber shooting. After this tragic event, school bullying initiatives became more intensive and focused.

With respect to diversion, the police in the province can decide to take no action, warn a young person or refer the young person to a community program. The police can also make referrals directly to Extrajudicial Measures (EJM) and Extrajudicial Sanctions (EJS) programs, which can also be made by a Crown prosecutor. The difference between a police referral (extrajudicial measures) and a Crown referral (extrajudicial sanctions) is that a young person can be referred back to court for not successfully completing the extrajudicial sanctions program. A major development in the province since 1992 was the establishment of youth justice committees to assist in the administration of extrajudicial sanctions (alternative measures under the YOA) and other responsibilities.

Youth Justice Committees (YJC) are community-based groups run by volunteers. Not all communities have YJCs, but those that have courthouses usually do. There are currently 123 such committees, involving about 1,400 community volunteers. The YJCs are in contact with the police in each community. The volunteers are provided with training and a probation office is connected to each YJC. They also have an annual conference where they share information and discuss common concerns. Youth justice committees can also undertake crime prevention and public education. For example, they can bring youth crime issues to the attention of the public and start public discussions about how best to respond to youth crime

The changing demographic trends in Canada have had an impact on both the child welfare and youth justice systems. Perhaps this is most visible in the decrease in youth crime. The question is whether the decrease experienced in the province of youth in custody has resulted in more young people being directed into the child welfare system. The provincial officials we interviewed indicated that there are no statistics available which would allow us to answer this question.

With respect to mental health, the province does not currently have a provincial mental health system for children and youth. Services are provided in different locations by different agencies. Some of this work is done by the government and some by the private sector. The ACYI obtained some funding to look at youth issues, including mental health services. A framework was developed five years ago and they have a ten-year-plan they are currently working on.

The provincial officials we interviewed indicated that there was support in the province for the philosophy behind the YCJA, especially since it dovetails with what they are trying to accomplish through the ACYI. A number of improvements have been made to youth services as a result of the new processes they have put in place. However, they are trying to get more resources to address both youth mental health and substance abuse issues, since many of the young people coming to their attention often have both types of problems.

They do not have a database in either corrections or forensics that they can access to determine whether there have been changes in their client profiles. They are trying to develop a database so that they can undertake analyses of current trends. In the meantime, they are implementing screens and assessments at the front end of their systems. They have noticed, however, that as a result of the YCJA, while overall numbers of youth in custody have declined, the needs of those in the system have increased significantly. Those being sentenced to custody have much higher risk and needs profiles than they did under the YOA. The provincial officials we interviewed noted that they used to have a large number in custody with available resources used to provide services to all of them. This meant that there were limited resources for individualized treatment plans. With smaller numbers in custody, they have been able to develop more individualized programs.

There is some concern among provincial officials that the YCJA is a very complex piece of legislation. As a result, it is open to multiple interpretations. They have been working with their provincial counterparts to get consistent interpretations of the legislation across jurisdictions. In general, however, the Act has been positively received, especially as a result of its emphasis on using custody for the right young people. This objective is part of a process that needs to be constantly monitored. In fact, the values of the youth justice system have had a positive influence across provincial government services for youth, including in both youth and adult corrections.

Youth violence has not been addressed as an issue unto itself, but rather as part of a broader whole. That is, they want to look at all aspects of a person and not just his/her behaviour. They also recognize that it takes time to develop a relationship with young people. They have not developed strategies that are specific to youth violence, but what they have been doing does affect youth violence indirectly. For example, they are now doing a much better job at collaboration. The Howard House Bridges Treatment Program is an example of a new, more collaborative approach to providing youth services in the province. This project involves six partners: The Edmonton John Howard Society, Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security, Alberta Education, AADAC, Northern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Services, and Capital Health. These groups now work under one roof to address a range of mental health, education and addictions issues. They provide a wide range of education, counselling, recreation and life skills programs (John Howard Society, 2005-06).

This initiative was organized differently from what would have been the case in the past. For example, instead of having one agency develop a program through which the other five partners provide services, they work together in the Bridges program to be holistic in their approach. The actual services each partner provides are the same as they would have been in the past; however, they are now much more aware of what the other partners are doing. Everyone expects the young people in the program to apply the lessons learned in one module to the rest of their program activities. In this way, the individual components in the program are now much more integrated than they would have been. Early reports suggest that the new model of service delivery has had a marked impact on the youth involved the program.

Within the mental health system, they just completed a review of young offender forensic services. The ideas that came out of this review were that they should not look at where the services are delivered (for example, Calgary or Edmonton), but rather at the types of service required. They decided that it would make sense to look at services for different groups of clients such as sex offenders, young offenders, violent offenders, and a low functioning group. They are reorienting their focus away from institutions toward service recipients.

Youth Justice in British Columbia

British Columbia was well positioned to implement the provisions of the YCJA when they came into force in 2003. Until ten years ago, youth justice was part of the youth corrections branch, but in 1997, the Ministry of Children and Family Development was created, and it was given jurisdiction over youth justice matters, with the exception of provincial prosecutors, who are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Attorney General. The province used the YCJA as a catalyst to review its existing provincial youth justice legislation. Eventually, both the BC YOA and the youth-related provisions of the Corrections Act were replaced with one consolidated Youth Justice Act revised. The Youth Justice Act addresses procedures and sentences relating to provincial statutes offences, as well as youth custody and community programs for young offenders.

The Provincial Court is the first level of court in British Columbia. The Court’s jurisdiction includes criminal, family, child protection, small claims, and traffic cases. The Provincial Court has jurisdiction in all criminal matters, except murder committed by adults, and a few obscure offences, such as treason and “alarming Her Majesty.” Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), the Provincial Court is designated as the Youth Court for British Columbia. Criminal cases, including cases under the YCJA, can be heard by any provincial court judge, criminal division. The Provincial Court cases may take the form of guilty pleas, preliminary inquiries, applications or trials before a judge. There are no jury trials in Provincial Court. Over 95% of all criminal cases in the province are heard by provincial court judges in Provincial Court, with the remainder heard in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The Supreme Court of British Columbia also has jurisdiction in cases for which the accused elects trial.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development rewrote its two main policy manuals in order to address the custodial provisions contained in the YCJA: 1) the Community Youth Justice Manual of Operations; 2) the Youth Custody Manual of Operations (for youth custody staff). They also revised youth custody regulations. To better meet the provisions of the YCJA, they enhanced community alternatives by creating new restorative justice and conferencing positions to deal with youth court referrals. These specialists are not available in every community, but they are in every region of the province. There were originally two on Vancouver Island, two in Vancouver, three in the Fraser Valley, one in Prince George, one in Kelowna and one in Kamloops. The ministry insisted on having staff with a youth justice background, and these conferencing specialists focus on youth involved in serious and violent crimes, including those likely to serve a period of time in custody. There has not been as much uptake as expected of restorative justice and conferencing. As a result, two of these positions have been reassigned to other youth justice responsibilities.

After the passage and implementation of the YCJA, a number of changes occurred in the youth justice system in British Columbia. According to their youth custody plan (British Columbia: Ministry of Children and Family Development. Youth Custody Service Plan. 2007/8, April:6):

The most notable has been the dramatic decline in the number of young persons in the youth justice and youth custody systems. In 2000/01 there was an average of 290 youth in custody. This declined to 151 in the 2003/04 fiscal year. Since then the number of youth in custody has been relatively stable with a further slight decline in the past two fiscal years (135 in 2005/06 and 139 in 2006/07).

In addition to the decline in the total average count in the youth custody centres, the profile of the youth in custody also changed. They began to deal with proportionately more older youth who had had more contact with the system and who were involved in more serious crimes.

The province has responded by providing a number of service options in the community. For example, they have an Intensive Support and Supervision Program (ISSP) as well as a Violent Young Offender Treatment Program. They were able to enhance programming as a result of the increased federal funding the province received between 1999 and 2002. The ISSP is currently available province-wide.

They also have a violent offender treatment program available in all three youth custody centres, and in the community through Youth Forensic Psychiatric Services Clinics available in eight locations. This began as a group program in two youth custody centres, but is now more individualized. Their position is that if it is more individualized, it is more effective. They also offer both Youth Psychiatric Services and Youth Forensic Psychiatric Services. These have not been formally evaluated as yet, although there is a plan to do so in the near future. These programs are evidence-based and build on best practices models. Psychological education programs are also available, and there is one youth worker assessing treatment readiness. This program is for youth that do not need full psychiatric treatment. They are also exploring home visits and risk assessment programs.

Extrajudicial Measures (EJM) in British Columbia are a continuation of what they did under the YOA and include restorative justice programs. They have a Crown approval process for all charges as well as a Crown caution program. Their EJM program involves “informal police-initiated resolution, where police use their discretion to refer those involved in minor offences at the pre-charge stage to local community-based programs” (British Columbia: Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General (2004:28). Extrajudicial Sanctions are a “formal Crown-initiated resolution, where the Crown uses its discretion to refer offences to an accredited alternative measures program, Youth Justice Services (probation), or Community Corrections (adult probation) after the charge-approval process has been completed” (British Columbia: Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General (2004:28). Referrals from the Crown are made to a youth probation officer who meets with the youth and parents. The youth probation officer reports to the Crown with recommendations. They also have two Aboriginal-specific programs where referrals are made to a community-based Aboriginal agency that provides culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal youth.

The British Columbia Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General supports restorative justice programs in the province through its Community Accountability Programs (CAP). As noted above, these are part of their Extrajudicial Measures. The province offers grants of up to $2500 each year for ongoing services. In 2005, there were seventy-four CAP programs operating across the province that had received funding (

The CAP most closely resembles the youth justice committees that exist in other jurisdictions. They have to adhere to the ministry’s Framework for Restorative Justice to be eligible for funding. For example, CAP programs have to be community-based, involving volunteers, representatives of the criminal justice system and victims’ organizations. They can accept referrals only from the police for category 3 and 4 offences and they cannot deal with sexual offences, relationship violence/abuse, child abuse, and hate-motivated crimes. They provide volunteer training as well as administrative and operational support. CAP restorative justice programs can include victim- offender mediation, family group conferencing, healing circles/circle remedy approaches and neighbourhood accountability boards/panels.

British Columbia has had crime prevention programs operating for many years, including some related to youth violence. For example, they have a youth gang / youth crime prevention program that started in 1990. As well, they have a Youth Against Violence Line, which is a multilingual toll-free phone and email service that operates twenty-four hours a day ( British Columbia, Community Accountability Program).

They also provide ministry-wide support for the Roots of Empathy program that is offered through school boards and school districts ( This program builds empathy in young primary school children and attempts to curb aggression. It is currently being offered in schools across the province, including several in Aboriginal communities.

The Safe Streets and Safe Schools Grant Program is another crime prevention program that encourages the development of innovative, community-based crime prevention projects for addressing local problems while building community capacity ( Moreover, the province has been actively involved with the federal National Crime Prevention Centre for many years, with a variety of municipal and community partners in crime prevention activities, including recognition and awards programs, conferences, and consultations.

A new secretariat was established in British Columbia in 2007, known as the Criminal Justice Reform Secretariat. It involves the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It has three streams: 1) criminal justice efficiencies (e.g., bail reform); 2) crime reduction through strategic approaches (e.g., prolific offenders) and 3) crime prevention. As part of the crime prevention approach, they are looking at two tiers: 1) a longer-term, more integrated strategic plan across government; 2) they are attempting to come up with priorities, like enhancing services around a home visiting program and a middle-childhood group at risk. They do not have a lot of services for six-to ten-year–olds, but they do have a lot of programs for preschool children as well as for older adolescents who come under the jurisdiction of the youth justice system. Since there are far fewer programs and resources available for children and youth in the middle years, they are trying to engage partners and work on integration.

The provincial representatives we interviewed felt they have an advantage in British Columbia with respect to mental health, youth justice and child welfare issues since they have child and family services in one ministry. As a result, they have an integrated approach, with everyone reporting to the same supervisor or manager. Child welfare legislation in British Columbia covers youth up to their nineteenth birthday, and this is really advantageous because the province has to provide services to youth throughout their teen years. This is important since older youth are often more difficult to serve.

Child and Youth Mental Health Services have stand-alone programs that are part of the ministry. As well, Youth Forensic Psychiatric Services provide programs for youth in conflict with the law. They do a court assessment under Section 34 and from referrals sent by probation officers (British Columbia: Youth Custody Services Annual Report (2006/7:6). They provide treatment that is court ordered and for clients referred by probation officers. Their budget is $12–$13 million for youth going through the court system. They have in-patient assessment and treatment that is provided by psychiatric social workers and nurses, psychiatrists, and psychologists. This program has helped them deal effectively with young people with mental health issues. It allows them to focus more on integrated approaches and to treat the youth in the community with available resources and supports. This program is also in the institutions, since many of the serious violent offenders are too dangerous for the community.

Child welfare and child mental health data is difficult to obtain for a variety of reasons. As a result, it is hard to assess what the impact of the YCJA has been on child welfare services. The provincial representatives we interviewed felt that, in any event, there is not going to be a significant impact on the youth in-care count based on the youth justice system since the numbers are very small. They do, however, keep an eye on what is happening in this area. They also try to track adult sentences, including how many applications are made to transfer to adult court versus how many are actually sent. However, due to the reverse onus provisions in the Act, there are not large numbers receiving adult sentences. Importantly, they have had five IRCS cases since the legislation was implemented.

Integrated case management conferences have been started, but they already had these before the YCJA was passed. The availability of both federal and provincial funding has allowed them to decrease their use of custody, since more community-based options are now available. Funding increased significantly between 1999 and 2002, when a net increase of approximately $6 million of federal money went to British Columbia as part of their costs-sharing agreement. These funds were used to support the implementation of the YCJA. For example, some of the funds went into the Intensive Support and Supervision Program, while others were put into substance abuse programs or community alternatives. They have found that by providing appropriate alternatives to custody, the youth courts are increasingly using them. In addition, the police are using their discretion more extensively at the front end of the system, which puts less pressure on community services. They are trying to refer only the young people who really need services to the community-based programs.

There is strong support in the province for the policies contained in the YCJA. The provincial youth justice representatives we interviewed were more concerned with how the legislation is being implemented. It is very complex around records and enforcement. Their area of greatest concern is with the pretrial detention provisions contained in the legislation. The province does not have an official policy on this. There is also some concern over the criteria for custody. The Supreme Court definition of violence does not include offences such as arson or high speed chases. The restricted eligibility for custody under the YCJA leaves out some of these very dangerous behaviours. It restricts the youth justice system’s ability to deal with some young people who represent a real risk to themselves and the community.

The provincial representatives we interviewed suggested that we need to look at prevention and deal with young people before they are in the youth justice system. Some examples include programs for pregnant mothers and preschool children and school-based programs that emphasize youth decision-making.

Youth Justice in Ontario

In anticipation of the passage of the YCJA, Ontario began a significant restructuring of its youth justice system. This transformation included the consolidation of youth justice services under the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), with a specific mandate given to its Youth Justice Services Divisions. In addition, the Ministry of the Attorney General is responsible for prosecution services, including those related to the YCJA. It is also responsible for the development of their youth justice committee program and the extrajudicial sanctions program. Prior to 2003, jurisdiction over young offenders in the province was split between the Ministry of Community and Social Services, which dealt with young people twelve to fifteen years of age, and the Ministry of Corrections, which dealt with sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds. Not only did the consolidation under the Ministry of Children and Youth Services end jurisdictional issues, it also ensured a consistent philosophical approach across the province to young offenders.

The Ontario Court of Justice can broadly be said to exercise jurisdiction in three distinct areas: criminal law, family law and provincial offences. In the area of criminal law, the Court has extensive jurisdiction and renders final judgment in well over 95% of all matters under the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other federal statutes. The Court deals with the vast majority of prosecutions involving young persons between the ages of twelve and seventeen years under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (except when the young person elects to be tried by a judge and jury or a judge without a jury in the Superior Court of Justice). Some of the judges from the Ontario Court of Justice specialize and others can sit in more than one of the three areas, e.g., adult criminal matters and YCJA matters.

The implementation of the YCJA resulted in a significant decrease in the use of custodial dispositions in the province and a corresponding increase in the use of community-based alternatives. In response, the Youth Justice Services Divisions (YJSD) of the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services began to develop a comprehensive framework within which it could provide a continuum of programs and services to meet its obligations under the new legislation. These programs and services are being developed with an evidence-based philosophy in mind, including the use of established best practices and evaluation frameworks. The nature and extent of the changes under way amount to a major overhaul of the way youth justice services are delivered in the province.

The Alternatives to Custody and Community Interventions Strategy (ATCCIS) is at the heart of the transition currently under way in Ontario (Mazaheri, 2006). Its objective is to guide the development of community-based programs and services that are youth-centred and build on the resources available in communities. The ATCCIS seeks to deal with young people in a holistic and integrated manner based on a partnership model of service delivery that recognizes the complexity of youth crime.

A wide range of programs and services is being developed as part of the ATCCIS. Funds for these activities have come from the rationalization of underused open custody beds in seventeen open custody residences in the province. This rationalization allowed ATCCIS to shift youth justice services from residentially based programming toward a broad range of services provided in the community. As a result of these rationalization decisions in 2004–5 and 2005–6, $18.5 million has been provided for the ATCCIS (Mazaheri, 2006:4). Interviews with provincial officials indicated that $28.7 million has been made available to date, which has included funding for 176 new or enhanced programs.

The emerging continuum of service is suitable for dealing with youth involved in both minor and more serious offences. This includes the development of school-based prevention and diversion pilot projects, which offer peer mediation and other school-based services to assist young people. The pilot projects use a “brokerage model” of community services to provide support to these young people and their families, in the community, while assisting them in dealing with the factors that contributed to the offending behaviour (Mazaheri, 2006:6).

The MCYS has invested a great deal since 2005 in the development of Extrajudicial Measures and Extrajudicial Sanctions. YJSD, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Attorney General, has implemented twenty-seven EJM pre-charge pilot projects and six EJS post-charge pilot projects to identify best practices. Both EJM and EJS deal with various types of offences (e.g., all class 1 and 2 and some class 3 offences). A comprehensive framework for EJM and EJS is currently being developed and will be available in the fall of 2008.

Restorative Justice pilot projects have also been developed (Ontario: MCYS, 2006). These take several forms, including family-group conferencing, facilitated conferencing, school-based conferencing and victim-offender mediation. Referrals to restorative justice programs may be made either pre-or post-charge. They represent an effective community-based alternative that emphasizes a holistic approach to youth in conflict with the law.

An Attendance Centre pilot program has also been launched to meet specific provisions of the YCJA. The Attendance Centres are supervised sites that offer intensive, structured and closely supervised programs. These services are a condition of probation and are intended to address the underlying needs of the youth while providing intensive supervision, which helps to manage the risk to the community. Specific services offered may include anger management, substance abuse counselling, education, employment and life-skills training. The program is flexible, allowing young people to attend during the day, outside of school hours or on weekends. Young people in the program are encouraged to pursue recreational and other activities in the community to help them achieve success.

The province has also instituted Reintegration and Support Services, as well as a Youth Outreach Worker program, to provide support and link young people to services that are available at the community level. For example, the Eastern Ontario Youth Services Agency (EOYSA) offers such programs through its Community Support Teams that provide a full range of community alternatives. As well, they have launched an Aboriginal Alternatives to Custody program, which is culturally appropriate and focuses on providing a continuum of meaningful programs to Aboriginal youth. These programs are operated by Aboriginal community agencies. The focus of these programs is on prevention, diversion and alternatives to custody.

Interviews with provincial youth justice officials revealed that they have not noticed any real impact on the use of child welfare or child protection services as a result of the implementation of the YCJA. In fact, there are very few referrals under Section 35 of the YCJA. Section 35 has not been seen as a very effective way of addressing the needs of young people with serious problems. The experience in Ontario is that the average age of the young people being provided with youth justice services is increasing, and there are fewer cases that are subject to child welfare jurisdiction. We were told that it is possible that Children’s Aid Societies could be involved in cases where short-term residential services are needed for probation cases, but this is unlikely.

We also communicated with nine Program Supervisors from the MCYS Program Management Division (PMD) in the hope of accessing additional information pertaining to the impact of the YCJA on child welfare-related services. We were informed that there were no available data on the impact of the YCJA on child welfare residential services. The comments we received are anecdotal and are based on either personal observation by the PMD Program Supervisors or conversations between them and services providers. From the information we received, there have not been many s.35 referrals nor any significant number of children placed in child welfare residential services as a direct result of the YCJA. In some situations, residential care may have been provided to a youth not sentenced to a custodial facility; for example in instances where the family did not want him/her to live at home. However, in such situations, the key question was, “Is the youth really in need of protection?” Given the paucity of data, it is difficult to assess the impact of the YCJA on child welfare residential placements.

According to provincial YJSD representatives, there are no real differences between the YOA and the YCJA periods in the way young people with mental health problems are dealt with. There was some pressure on child mental health services in the early days of the YCJA, but this is no longer the case. Interviews with provincial justice officials also indicated that IRCS orders are not used very often. In fact, there have only been seventeen IRCS cases in Ontario since 2003, with thirteen of these being currently active.

Young people in the youth justice system who do have mental health issues can get services through the Intensive Support and Supervision Program (ISSP). The MCYS developed the ISSP in accordance with s. 42(2)(1) of the YCJA. This program is intended for young people with a diagnosed mental illness or disorder who are at risk of being placed in custody and who require intensive clinical and community supports, supervision, and crises management (Mazaheri, 2006:7). “While many community programs offer support to youth and their families, it is the level, type and intensity of mental health programming that distinguishes [ISSP] from other structured, community programs (Ontario: MCYS, 2007).” ISSP is designed to reduce the risk of recidivism, promote community safety through monitoring these young people, and expand the range of alternatives available to them while reducing the use of custody and avoiding the use of custody as a substitute for appropriate mental health services. There are nine ISSP pilot programs operating across the province involving about 200 young people, including many that have serious mental health problems. They have also established The Youth Mental Health Court Worker Program to provide services to youth with mental health problems. The provincial representatives we interviewed felt that 40–60% of the youth on probation or in custody in the province have some kind of mental health issue.

Youth violence has not been singled out in the transition process currently under way in the youth justice system in Ontario. All programs are being designed with the continuum of services in mind and a “root cause” and “outcome-based” philosophy. However, a number of specific programs were put in place in response to incidents of gang violence in Toronto. These include: (1)the African Canadian Youth Justice Program, and (2) the response to youth violence being made through the Youth Opportunities Strategy. For example, the Youth Opportunities Strategy provides some funding to initiatives such as the Violence Intervention Project (VIP), which is run by the East Metro Youth Services in Toronto. This is an accredited mental health centre that provides a range of services, including “youth-led violence prevention workshops on such topics as Bullying, Gang Violence, Dating Violence/ Healthy Relationships, Diversity (including Anti-Racism and Homophobia), Anger Management, Conflict Resolution, Boys and Violence, and Girls and Violence. Additionally, VIP staff and youth participants organize and host violence prevention forums and conferences (Violence Intervention Project, 2005).” The Violence Intervention Project engages and mobilizes young people and encourages them to find ways to enhance school and community safety. The program focuses on developing skills in problem-solving, conflict resolution, communication, public speaking, negotiation, assertiveness and decision-making. Youth are encouraged to take leadership roles in developing violence prevention initiatives within their school or community.

The MCYS is not experiencing any real problems with the YCJA. They are noticing that the young offenders they now deal with are older and have been involved in more offences, including more serious ones. At the same time, the sentences for serious violent offenders are getting longer, resulting in twenty-one-, twenty-two-, and twenty-three-year-olds being in the youth justice system. The province is looking at ways of dealing with these young people. Some young people convicted of serious violent offences may be transferred to the adult system, but this is not automatic. They indicated that they currently have ten serious cases to deal with, which is quite low. As noted above, they have also had seventeen young people on IRCS since the YCJA came into force.

The provincial officials we interviewed did not want to focus too narrowly on youth violence, since they believe in the progress that has been made with their holistic approach. They felt that the transition that is under way, with its emphasis on a comprehensive continuum of services which is youth-centred and promotes a “brokerage” approach to services, is very effective. Such an approach focuses on the causes of crime for each young person in their system, as opposed to targeting particular types of offences. They do not advocate for longer sentences, but instead refer to the principle of proportionality in their programs and services. That is, those involved in more serious crimes require more serious interventions. The NGO representative (EOYSA) interviewed was quick to point out that high-risk violent youth represent only a small percentage of their total clientele. He also informed us that they have always taken a holistic approach with violent youth, since they have a history of dealing with these types of young people. Their intervention strategy includes cognitive, self-change approaches, restorative thinking, anger management and empathy exercises.

The transition under way in youth justice in Ontario reflects a focus on two key principles of the YCJA. With respect to reducing its over-reliance on incarceration for non-violent offenders, the province is striving to provide a wide range of community-based alternatives to custody. These have been designed with evidence-based practices in mind and include ongoing assessments. They are to be holistic, youth-centred, and encourage community involvement and participation. The second principle, reserving the most serious interventions for the most serious crimes, has resulted in a new set of custody and reintegrative services. As well, specific services for young people with mental health issues have been developed.

The experience in Ontario indicates that a more comprehensive and integrated approach to young people in conflict with the law is emerging. This includes a commitment to an overarching philosophy that is expressed in each of the program components discussed above. The result is that the YCJA has already resulted in significant changes in the approach taken to youth justice in Ontario and more are likely in future.

Youth Justice in Québec

The Government of Québec had many policies and programs in place that anticipated the changes introduced in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. For example, Québec has a long history of paying special attention to the needs and rights of young people at risk, including those who may be in conflict with the law. The province also has experience with diversion and alternative sentences that dates back to the late 1970s. This was when Québec’s Youth Protection Act was introduced (1979). It provided legal counsel to those young people charged with a criminal offence and institutionalized voluntary alternatives to formal court processes, which were the precursors to alternative measures and extrajudicial measures. As a result, Québec did not have a difficult time meeting the requirements of either the Young Offenders Act or the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They did, however, provide training and coordinated their efforts with the Youth Centres [Centres jeunesse (CJs)] in preparation for the implementation of the new legislation. They also prepared a comprehensive guide for use by Youth Centre workers.

The Court of Québec has three divisions: the Civil Division (that includes the Small Claims Division), the Criminal and Penal Division, and the Youth Division. The Youth Division hears all cases involving minors, such as applications under the Youth Protection Act concerning the security or development of a child under eighteen years of age. It also hears adoption cases. In criminal matters, the Youth Division applies the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It hears first instance cases in which individuals between the ages of twelve and eighteen are accused of offences under the Criminal Code (including murder) and other federal statutes. In penal matters, the Youth Division applies the Penal Code Procedure and hears cases involving individuals between the ages of fourteen and eighteen who are accused of offences under Québec statutes and municipal bylaws. In criminal matters, the Superior Court has exclusive jurisdiction in first instance to try criminal cases, heard before judge and jury, involving murder and treason. The Superior Court also has jurisdiction in cases for which the accused elects trial by jury, including cases relating to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. As is the case for the Court of Appeal, the Superior Court is competent to hear appeals of decisions under the Criminal Code made by a judge of the Youth Division, the Criminal and Penal Division or a municipal court, or by a justice of the peace.

In Québec, services to young offenders are provided mainly through sixteen Youth Centres (CJs) located across the province. These are para-governmental agencies, entirely funded by the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS). They provide a full range of services to children, youth, and their families, including young people up to eighteen years of age who are subject to the YCJA and/or the Québec Youth Protection Act. CJs do all assessments and treatment interventions except for psychiatric and psychological assessments and therapy services. They provide counselling and probation, pre-disposition reports, extrajudicial evaluation, monitoring of sentences, and custodial services. However, they do not provide the post-referral service components of extrajudicial measures and sanctions or some sentencing alternatives such as community service orders. These are provided by community-based agencies. In addition, the Ministry of Justice of Québec provides prosecution services, including for the YCJA, and Crown prosecutors participate in extrajudicial sanctions. The Ministry of Justice is also involved in other initiatives related to youth, with examples of these provided below.

The Québec Government updated its provincial statutes to comply with the new Act, including those related to extrajudicial measures and sanctions, the age of reverse onus (sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds), and the powers of temporary detention given to the provincial director. They also ensured that all the CJs put an intensive monitoring program for high-risk violent youth in place that includes two basic treatment options. This can consist of either sixty hours or 100 hours of direct counselling or treatment intervention, depending upon the level of risk that the youth represents.

We were advised that consultations were held with First Nations communities in the province regarding the management of youth justice services under the YCJS. As part of this effort, the province authorized several Youth Justice Committees in First Nations communities.

A number of Youth Centres have also tried to establish working protocols with the police with respect to their dealings with young offenders and in regard to staff safety issues. However, we were advised by one of their representatives that only the Montréal Youth Centre has been successful in doing this, primarily because it only has to deal with one police service. Work in this area in other regions is still ongoing.

The Québec government has put an intervention plan in place to deal with youth street gangs, with Montréal as the focal point. The plan is to run from 2007 to 2010. More specific programs will be developed in the near future since, in December 2007, Québec’s Ministers of Justice and Public Safety announced a $17.6 million plan to deal with street gangs. This plan consists of a two-pronged approach aimed at preventing youth from joining gangs as well as helping those who want to leave them. The strategy also includes an enforcement component.

The Québec Justice Ministry funded a multimedia high school play on youth justice. This initiative was designed by youth for youth. It has reached over 30,000 young people during its first two years of being performed in Québec high schools. As well, they have had a Provincial Coordinating Round Table on Youth Violence in Schools since 1995.

Québec is also providing support to communities through the Ministry of Public Safety toward the development of crime prevention programs, some of which focus on reducing youth violence. They provide numerous community grants to support local crime prevention efforts. Québec also invested, several years ago, in a major early intervention program throughout the province, under the leadership of Richard E. Tremblay at the University of Montréal, on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustment.

In their update of provincial Extrajudicial Measures and Extrajudicial Sanctions Programs, the use of “cautions” has been excluded. Moreover, these programs do not permit the laying of charges if the young offender does not complete the agreed-upon tasks.

Psychiatric services are offered through hospitals or clinics specializing in such services. When young offenders are under supervision in the community or in open custody facilities, they make use of available services in the community. If the young offenders are in a secure custody facility, then the services are either provided by a psychiatrist who travels to the facility or the young person obtains the services in the community while under escort.

As for psychological services, we were told that the CJs have some resources to provide assessment and follow-up services. However, given that these resources are limited, young offenders also have access to services provided through Local Community Health Centres or hospitals. The CJs have the financial responsibility for the psychological and psychiatric assessments required by the youth court or requested by a youth worker who is doing a predisposition report. The Pinel Institute provides services for those young people requiring residential intervention for psychiatric problems.

We were informed that Québec officials were originally quite concerned about the potential impact of s. 35 referrals, especially with respect to the potential use of this section as an informal alternative to custody. However, their concerns were unfounded, as there have been very few s. 35 referrals since the legislation was implemented. They were also concerned about custodial orders under s. 42.2 (r) and 42.(7). Here, again, there have been very few intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision orders since the legislation was enacted. However, mental health cases are increasingly becoming an important issue, including problems related to drug dependency, suicide and co-morbidity.

It may be much easier for Québec than for other Canadian jurisdictions to limit the impact of the YCJA on child welfare services, including residential facilities, because the CJs are responsible for both youth in need of protection and young offenders. In fact, the philosophical perspective informing youth services is based on the notion that there is little difference between the services provided to children and youth who are in need of protection or in trouble. Moreover, Québec’s philosophy on young offenders is: “They view them first and foremost as young people in a stage of development. They are seen as susceptible to making errors. They have special learning needs and require structure and counselling. They can become productive citizens if appropriate measures are used such as rehabilitation rather than correction. Their criminal responsibility is attenuated and different from adults” (Québec, MSSS, n.d:1).

The Québec representative of the Ministry of Health and Social Services provided us with an informal report highlighting some statistics they had gathered on the implementation of the YCJA in that province. Québec had a high diversion rate under the YOA and continues to experience a high rate of diversion under the YCJA. Most of the additional diversion cases are due to increased police discretion. In addition, data on youth justice from Québec shows that the rates for youth charged with crime are also going down For example, the number of young offenders serviced by the CJs decreased by 32% from 2002–03 to 2005–06. Those services provided by community-based agencies also showed a decrease of 23%. This suggests both that the police are handling cases more informally under the YCJA and that the rates themselves are decreasing. Similarly, the number of cases referred by the Crown attorney has also decreased by 22.5% since the implementation of the YCJA. At the same time, the youth population in Québec (twelve to seventeen inclusive) has increased by an average of 1.5% per year since 2002. However, the Québec data does indicate that while fewer youth have been involved in crime in recent years, they are proportionally more involved in crimes against the person, since these types of offences went from 24% in 2002 to 27% in 2005. On the other hand, the proportion of property crimes decreased from 51% in 2002 to 45% in 2005.

Pretrial detention has decreased since the implementation of the YCJA. For example, in 2005– 06, 1,975 youth were subjected to pretrial detention orders, compared with 3,235 in 2002 under the YOA. Custodial sentences have also decreased considerably in Québec since the advent of the YCJA. The decrease is more prevalent with respect to open custody than secure custody, which is logical given the fact that the Act restricts the use of custody to those young people who represent a danger to society. For example, in 2005–06, 446 youth were placed in open custody, compared with 1,251 in 2002–03; and 723 were placed in secure custody in 2005–06, compared with 1,104 in 2002–03. In addition, under the YCJA, young offenders are being incarcerated for shorter periods on average than under the YOA. It should be noted that Québec had a high custody rate under the YOA. On average, over 30% of youth charged received custodial sentences. This outcome was often justified by Québec government representatives by the fact that it also had the lowest court referral rate in Canada. Consequently, those referred to court were the more serious cases, thus generating more serious dispositions.

Finally, the data provided by a Québec representative on the use of new sentencing alternatives under the YCJA, such as absolute discharge, intensive support and supervision, non-residential attendance programs, deferred custody and supervision, and intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision, do not indicate a general growth in their use in 2005–06. For example, deferred custody was used 11% less in 2005-06 than in 2004. Non-residential attendance programs were used 30% less and the intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision orders were only used twice in three years.

In general, Québec officials were very concerned about the potential impact of several provisions in the YCJA, such as general custody, referrals to child welfare services, intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision, etc. They were worried the legislation might lead to reduced access to custodial dispositions for dangerous young offenders and that they would have to deal with an increased use of chid welfare services to compensate for the lack of services available to young offenders. They were reassured by the fact that in Québec, the reduction in custodial placements appears to be coming more from open custody facilities than secure ones, which are generally reserved for the more difficult and dangerous young offenders. However, they believe it is too soon to assess the full impact of the legislation in this area. Their view is that they need to invest more resources in monitoring and doing follow-up assessments with the more difficult cases. Also, there were very few court ordered referrals of young offenders for child welfare assessments. Finally, while no data was made available pertaining to adult sentences, we were informed that there were very few of these in Québec and this has always been the case.

Federal Youth Justice Representatives

We also met with federal justice representatives to get an overview of special projects or initiatives relating to youth violence that were part of the YCJA implementation strategy. We learned that the federal government encouraged several strategies aimed at reducing youth violence. First, they felt that the promotion of community alternatives and the concomitant reduction in the use of custodial dispositions were in themselves a means to reduce future youth violence. They also supported several First Nations violence reduction projects aimed at urban Aboriginal youth in Western Canada, such as the Cities Project. The goal of this project was to marshal existing federal, provincial, and municipal resources and programs in several specific cities to develop a collaborative approach to Aboriginal youth at risk and in conflict with the law. The Cities Project was launched in Winnipeg in January 2003. They also supported several youth gang-related projects in the general Toronto area aimed at children and youth who are likely to become involved in gangs because of their involvement in the youth justice system. They supported two gang-related forums in Toronto (2006 and 2007) involving over thirteen neighbourhoods. In addition, they are investing $1.5 million in drug prevention-related strategies for youth in conflict with the law.

The federal justice representatives we interviewed mentioned that some provincial Crown attorneys had voiced concerns about the difficulties in seeking more pretrial detention decisions for those cases they believe pose a risk to society. Finally, they mentioned that Justice Canada provided YCJA bridge funding to all the provinces and territories interested in building up front-end community alternatives programs and services from April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2005. All the jurisdictions made use of the special funds, with the exception of Ontario, which did not avail itself of this funding during the first three years that it was available.

An Overview of Youth Crime Trends and Youth Court Dispositions

A recurring theme in the public debate about youth crime over the last twenty years has involved the perception that youth crime is increasing and getting more violent. The data and related analysis presented in this section will not resolve this debate, but will provide some evidence regarding the nature and extent of youth crime in Canada since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Most of the data for our analysis come from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics.1

In this section, we present an analysis of various statistics available on youth crime, including those related to police charges, diversion (extrajudicial measures and sanctions), youth court decisions, sentencing data (including adult sentences), recidivism, and victimization. The focus is on available data from 2000 and 2006. This time period was selected in order to examine data for both the pre-and post-YCJA period.

In the discussion of the evolution of youth legislation outlined in Part I, reference was made to the differences between perceptions of increasing levels of youth crime and the existing evidence on youth crime. The impact of these perceptions formed the basis of much of the public debate and government response. We noted that the rates at which youth were being charged with crimes did indeed increase through the 1950s and 1960s and stabilized in the 1990s. As well, we noted that violent offences committed by young people were high in the early 1990s, but these too levelled off by the mid-1990s. Police charging practices were discussed in relation to the increased charges after the implementation of the YOA, as was the introduction of zero-tolerance policies in schools. Moreover, a number of studies indicated that a significant portion of the violent offences were minor assaults (the CCJS defined minor assaults as Level 1 assaults). For example, Doob and Cesaroni (2004) assessed the nature of the changes in the level of youth crime for 1986 to 1999 and found that the increase in violent crime was driven mainly by an increase in minor assaults.

As Sprott and Doob state, “Overall, then, there is no clear evidence of an ‘increase’ in youth crime generally, or youth violence specifically” (quoted in Campbell 2005:121). In addition, serious youth violence is a rare occurrence, even if the public believes that many young people are involved in serious crimes. Doob, Sprott, Marinos and Varma note that “in 1997, 79 percent of Ontario residents reported, in a public opinion poll, that they believed the number of youth named as suspects in homicides was increasing. However, the data indicated otherwise” (quoted in Campbell: 119). Finally, earlier data suggested that girls were generally less prone to committing violent offences. While this may still be the case, recent studies (e.g., Sprott and Doob, 2003, in Campbell, 2005) indicate that proportionately, girls are now referred to court in greater numbers than in the past. This is a process that began after the proclamation of the YOA. In general, there has been little change in the nature and extent of youth crime over the past ten years, and as Sprott and Doob point out, “where there have been increases, it is difficult to interpret what those increases mean” (in Campbell: 133).

Crime Statistics: 2000–2006

CCJS data indicate that the national crime rate was at its lowest level in over twenty-five years in 2006. The crime rate dropped 3%, following a drop of 5% in 2005. The data indicate that the rate dropped by about 30% from its peak in 1991 after increasing steadily throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The crime rate is determined by totalling the number of incidents reported to the police, dividing this number by the total Canadian population and multiplying the result by 100,000, which gives a crime rate per 100,000 population. The youth (aged twelve to seventeen) crime rate includes youth who are formally charged or recommended to the Crown for charging by police, as well as youth cleared by means other than the laying of a charge, divided by the total youth population (twelve to seventeen) and then multiplying the result by 100,000 to produce a crime rate per 100,000 population.

The youth crime rate increased by 3% in 2006, and this was its first increase since 2003. The increase was due primarily to charges for “other Criminal Code offences,” such as mischief and disturbing the peace. However, youth violent crime also rose 3% while property crime decreased by 3%. For violent crimes, youth rates (including youth formally charged or recommended to the Crown for charging, as well as youth cleared by means other than the laying of a charge) increased for homicide, assault and robbery, and decreased for sexual assault. The 2006 rate of youth accused of homicide was the highest since 1961, when data were first collected. In 2006, eighty-four youth (aged twelve to seventeen) were accused of homicide, involving fifty-four different victims. It should be noted that since these numbers are relatively small, changes are amplified when they are converted into percentage change. We discuss the issue of homicides in more detail below.

Police Charging Practices

Tables 1, 2, 3 and 4 (see Appendix II below) provide data on the evolution of charging practices by the police in Canada as a whole and for the four comparison provinces (Québec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia) from 2000 to 2006. However, for the purposes of our analysis, we relied mainly on the data from 2002 to 2006. We wanted to look at the changes in charging practices during the last year of the YOA and subsequent years under the YCJA. We looked at all incidents of crime, Criminal Code offences, violent offences and property offences. We then compared the charging practices and the charging ratio with the youth population (number of youth charged in comparison with the total number of youth charged and total youth population twelve to seventeen). We also looked at the number of minor assault offences (the formal term referred to in the CCJS data base is Assault 1 offences) so as to have a better idea of their role in the level of violent offences. We reviewed the information pertaining to homicide, since this was one of the categories of offence that were viewed by CCJS as responsible for a portion of the increase in violent offences for 2006 involving youth. In addition, youth involvement or perceived involvement in homicides in larger cities (particularly in Toronto) have been at the centre of the concern raised by the public, politicians, and the media around youth violence.

The data indicate a significant decrease in the number of youth charged by the police for all the major offence categories (all incidents, Criminal Code offences, violent crimes and property crimes). For example, nationally, the “all incidents” category revealed that 113,119 youth had been charged in 2002 (the last year of the YOA), while 85,947 youth were charged for this category of offence in 2006. This represents 27,172 fewer charges, resulting in a 24% decrease. The rate of charging decreased in Ontario 24%, by 30% in Alberta, by 37% in BC and by 10% in Québec, although Québec already had the lowest charging rate in the country by far under the YOA. The number of female youth charges for “all incidents” decreased more significantly nationally and in the four provinces reviewed. For example, for Canada, the figures for the decrease in charges in this category were 29% young females and 23% young males, while in Ontario the decrease was 31% for young females and 22% for young males. The decrease is even more pronounced when we compare 2000 with 2006. On the other hand, when we take into account the population ratio (total youth charged ÷ youth population × 100,000), Ontario proportionately charges more youth than Québec and BC, but is about equal to the national average and is lower than Alberta. This conclusion is valid for both 2002 and 2005. The general implication for Ontario is that while it appears to follow the national average in terms of reducing the number of youth charged, it remains proportionately higher than other jurisdictions with higher overall crime rates.

With regard to Criminal Code offences, we find a very similar trend with respect to police charging practices, with the differences between the four provinces being significant. For example, nationally, the decrease is about 24% for young males and 30% for young females. Ontario follows the trend with 23% and 32% respectively, while Alberta and BC are ahead, showing a 32% reduction for young males and a 28% decrease for young females in Alberta and 38% and 34% decrease respectively for BC. When taking into account the population ratio, the results are very similar to those of the previous category. In 2005, Ontario’s decrease in the number of youth charged was slightly lower than the national average, much higher than Québec and BC and lower than Alberta. However, Ontario was charging more youth than all other provinces in 2002. Consequently, while police in Ontario continue to charge proportionally more youth than their counterparts in Québec and BC, they appear to be charging fewer young people now than they did in 2002.

With regard to violent crimes, the trends in the reduction in the number of youth charged follow a similar pattern, although it is not as pronounced as for the other categories. Nationally, between 2002 and 2006, the reduction in the total number of youth charged for violent offences decreased by 12%, while the number of females charged decreased by 16%. Comparable statistics for Ontario show a 14% decrease for all youth charged with violent crime and a 19% decrease for female youth charged with this type of offence. These data should be considered in light of the fact that the rates at which youth are being charged with crime have decreased over the last decade. The results of the population ratio analysis indicate that Ontario charges proportionately more youth with respect to crimes of violence than all three other jurisdictions and its charging ratio is higher than the national average. This is valid for both 2002 and 2005. The fact that Ontario could be a significant driver with respect to the overall crime rate because of the size of its population does not explain the variations related to police charging practices. Ontario has a lower overall crime rate (per 100,000 population) than British Columbia, Alberta and Québec.

We also looked that the proportion of youth charged for minor assaults to see if this had any impact on the charging practices. The results of this analysis revealed that the ratio of youth charged for minor assaults in comparison with all violent crime charges is almost the same in Ontario as it is in Québec and BC, and is comparable to the national average. Only Alberta has a slightly higher proportion of youth charged with minor assaults. Consequently, the proportion of youth charged with minor assault offences does not appear to have any impact on overall number of youth charged with violent crimes.

Table 5 shows the impact of minor assault charges on the violent crime rate. This category of offence has historically represented a significant portion of those youth being charged for violent offences, particularly since the early 1990s (i.e., the average has been in the range of 40% to 45% since the proclamation of the YCJA). Nationally, as well as in Alberta and BC, the proportion of youth charged for minor assaults continued to decrease up to 2006, but at a slower pace than in 2003 and 2004. However, in Ontario and Québec, the charging trends for minor assaults have different patterns, i.e., a slight upswing in Québec from 2005 to 2006 and stable proportions in 2005 and 2006 for Ontario. The relatively stable charging patterns for this category of offence might indicate that the police screening of minor offences that began with the implementation of the YCJA may have begun to reach its limit.

Tables 6 and 7 present information related to homicides. Table 6 shows an increase in the overall homicide rate (adults and youth) since 2000, both nationally and for three of the four provinces we reviewed. Only Québec (2.04 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 1.22 in 2006) has had a significant decrease. At the same time, Alberta showed a substantial increase in its homicide rate during this period (1.96 in 2000 to 2.84 in 2006). Ontario ranks in the middle of the four provinces with a rate of 1.54, which is below the national average rate of 1.85. On the other hand, the number of youth charged for homicide, while still very small in comparison with the overall number of youth charged, has increased significantly nationwide from forty-three in 2000 to eighty-three2 in 2006. This occurred when the actual youth population (twelve to seventeen) increased by 4% between 2000 and 2005 (figures for 2006 were not available). However, while the number of youth accused of homicide increased in 2006, the number of victims remained about the same as in 2005. In addition, the 2007 CCJS Juristat Report on Homicide in Canada, 2006 indicates that “Compared with adults, a higher proportion of homicides with youth accused of homicide involve multiple accused. Of all incidents involving youth in 2006, about half (52%) involved more than one accused, compared with 15% of incidents involving adults.” (CCJS, 2007: 06)

The rate of youth charged with homicide in 2006 was at its highest point since data were first collected in 1961. Except for Québec, the three other provinces we looked at experienced significant increases in the number of youth charged with homicide. The homicide rates were at their highest in 2005 for Ontario, Alberta and BC, and nationally. In addition, given that the youth population (twelve to seventeen) is about one-tenth of the adult population, these rates are disproportionately higher than the adult rates, suggesting that proportionately more young people than adults are charged with homicide. For example, nationally in 2006, eighty-three youth were charged with homicide, in comparison with 426 adults (a ratio of approximately 1:5); the figures for Ontario were twenty-three youth, versus 128 adults, representing a ratio of 1:4.5; in Alberta, the figures were twenty-four youth, compared with sixty-nine adults and a ratio of 1:3; and for BC, they were twelve youth, compared with seventy-four adults, with a ratio of 1:6. These should be in the 1:10 range if they actually represented the proportion of youth to adults in the population. We should also keep in mind that overall, Ontario fared better in 2006 with respect to youth involved in homicides compared with both national figures and in relation to Alberta, and BC. The adult and youth comparison is pertinent mainly because the number of youth involved in homicides is increasing at a faster pace than their adult counterparts and because youth have a different involvement pattern than adults, i.e., more multiple accused.

Given the Ontario focus of this study, we looked specifically at homicides in Ontario. This data is presented in Table 7 (see Appendix II). We used the CCJS CMA database to look at homicides in Ontario cities and specifically at the involvement of youth in this offence. We examined data for the largest cities in Ontario and included data from the largest cities in the three other provinces for comparison purposes. We decided to present absolute numbers here as opposed to rates per population, since homicide is the type of crime that garners a great deal of public and policy attention. Individual incidents, in this case, can have a dramatic impact on public perceptions and policy initiatives, quite apart from the rate at which this type of crime is occurring. In this regard, the actual number of homicides taking place in Toronto is an important fact to be considered on its own vis–à-vis the public and political response to violent crime. This point is further emphasized when these figures are compared with the number of homicides that were reported in Canada’s other large cities.

According to Table 7, in 2006, Toronto homicides represented 50% of all the actual incidents of this crime in Ontario. Ottawa was a distant second in this year. A review of 2005 data, the year with the most homicide incidents in Ontario, gives a similar picture, with the exception that Ottawa, Hamilton, St. Catharines and London have very similar numbers. These results indicate that most of the homicides in the province occur in Toronto. We also found that Toronto surpassed the number of homicides in other major cities across Canada by a substantial number. For example, in 2006, Toronto reported almost twice as many homicides as Montréal or Vancouver. The results were very similar for 2005, except that the number of homicides in Vancouver was also high but still significantly lower than Toronto. Interestingly, in 2006, the number of youth charged with homicide in Toronto was proportionately lower than the number of adults charged in comparison with the overall numbers and proportions for the province. Thus, while the number of homicides in Toronto is an important issue, youth should not be viewed as major contributors to this category of crime.

In sum, while Québec may not have had the biggest reduction with respect to charging practices, when taking into account its youth population, it has had the lowest charging rate in all the offence categories in comparison with Canada as a whole and the three other provinces. This was the case under the YOA and this trend has continued under the YCJA. Ontario appears to be following the national trend in terms of reduction in the number of youth formally charged, but lags behind Québec and BC when we take into account the comparative youth populations. This is particularly true for crimes of violence, where Ontario has a higher ratio of charging in proportion to its youth population (twelve to seventeen) than all the jurisdictions and the national average. Also, in 2006, Toronto homicides represented 50% of all Ontario incidents of homicide, but youth were not overrepresented in these charges as they were in homicides in the rest of the province.

The key question here is, why does Ontario charge proportionately more youth than the other three jurisdictions? The formal answer is that we really do not know. One contributor may be the fact that in Ontario, until recently (2003), sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds involved in crime were dealt with by correctional staff who were also responsible for adults. Working in a more correctional philosophy-based milieu could have an impact on the pre-sentence recommendations made to the youth court. As well, Ontario’s stance with respect to alternative measures under the YOA was among the most conservative in Canada. Further, the development of extrajudicial measures in Ontario is relatively recent. On the other hand, Ontario had the lowest overall crime rates in Canada in 2005 and 2006. The province fared better in 2006 with respect to youth involved in homicides compared with both national figures and in relation to Alberta and BC. In addition, the portion of minor assault charges in comparison with total crimes of violence are very similar in Ontario and the national figures, as well as those in the other three jurisdictions. This leads us to conclude that it is likely not the nature of the offences or the level of crime that can help explain the charging practices in Ontario. The role of the police and Crown attorney must be assessed with respect to charging policies and practices.

Finally, the use of official statistics of the type reviewed above does not allow for any direct conclusions to be drawn about the relative effectiveness of the approach to youth justice being taken in the different jurisdiction under review. The most that can be said is that there are distinct patterns evident among the four provinces. The approach in Québec has generally resulted in lower charges, lower court referrals and lower custodial sentences. One possible explanation for this pattern is that their policy and program responses have emphasized social interventions in contrast with more corrections-focused measures. The similarities between the statistical data for Québec and BC may similarly reflect the use of front-end alternatives in those provinces. The apparent convergence of approaches with respect to the development of integrated and comprehensive service continuums may also result in more homogenous approaches and outcomes in the future.

Diversion: Extrajudicial Measures and Extrajudicial Sanctions

Under the YOA, diversion was done at different levels. Police used their discretion for informal diversion in all provinces and most provinces implemented post-charge alternative measures programs, usually under the authority of Crown attorneys. Québec had informal police diversion and two categories of alternative measures; one under the authority of the Director of Youth Protection and the other directed by Crown attorneys. Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 also show a substantial increase in the exercise of police discretion from 2002 to 2006 in all the key offence categories, both nationally and for the four comparison provinces. It should be noted that youth who are “not charged” by the police represent the number of youth cleared by means other than the laying of a charge.

With respect to the category “Criminal Code Offences” in 2006, the percentage of youth who were not charged go as high as 70% for BC and as low as 53% for Ontario. Ontario is also the lowest for 2002 in this crime category. The data for violent crimes show that Ontario also has the lowest percentage of youth not charged. However, when comparing police discretionary practices from 2002 to 2006, Ontario is the province that has most dramatically increased the number of youth not charged at the police level.

In regard to property offences in 2006, Ontario police appear to exercise less discretion than those in Québec, BC and nationally. However, Ontario is also the province that has changed the most with respect to decisions not to charge since 2002. Police discretion went from 36% in 2002 to 62% in 2006.

In addition, we need to keep in mind that Ontario’s alternative measures programs at the post-charge level were conservative, but they still diverted many youth. The problem is that it was not possible to access the post-charge alternative measures data directly through the CCJS database. The Youth Court Survey data includes the post-charge outcomes, but they are reported together with charges that were withdrawn, stayed or dismissed. This will be discussed further below. Moreover, Table 5 shows that minor assault charges represent a very significant portion of the violent offences that were diverted through extrajudicial measures. In addition, we compared our results with Carrington and Schulenberg’s (2005, 2006) findings on police charging practices after the proclamation of the YCJA and found that our results are similar to what they reported (i.e., a significant increase in police discretion under the YCJA).

In a pre-and post-YOA study on police charging practices, i.e., from 1980 to 1990, Moyer (1994) observed that most of the provinces (including Ontario, Alberta and BC) saw a significant increase in police charging practices after the proclamation of the YOA. A few provinces stayed at the same level and Québec reported a reduction. As Carrington and Schulenberg point out, “Research on the impact on police practices of the YOA has found that immediately after the Act came into force, there was a substantial decrease in the exercise of police discretion not to charge apprehended youth, and that this increase in charging persisted throughout most of the period when the YOA was in force” (2005:3). Carrington and Schulenberg further state that “in 2003, approximately 1 out 6 six young people apprehended in Canada was not charged, who would have been charged if the police had continued to use the same charging practices as in 2002” (2005:14). It is clear that the YCJA has been quite successful in encouraging changes in police practices. Further, Carrington and Schulenberg (2007) found that “Levels of charging were 30% to 50% lower in 2004 than in 2002 for minor offences such as theft under and drug-related offences, while levels of charging for serious and violent offences (other than common assault) decreased only slightly” (2007:2).

The data pertaining to extrajudicial sanctions are much more difficult to access, since there are no systematic means to collect this information nationally. CCJS indicates that cases stayed or withdrawn are often indicative of charges set aside pending completion of extrajudicial sanctions/alternative measures (under the YOA). For this reason, we examined court decisions pertaining to cases that had been stayed or withdrawn from 2000 to 2006. These are presented in Table 8 below. A number of provinces, including Ontario, had implemented post-charge alternative measures programs under the YOA. In such programs, the option of charges stayed or withdrawn was often used pending completion of the measures. Consequently, a reduction in the use of this mechanism does not necessarily mean that extrajudicial sanctions are utilized less often. It could mean that this diversion tool has now been replaced by police-driven extrajudicial measures, which occurred in provinces that were using a post-charge alternative measures program. The number of such cases decreased for Canada as a whole from 2002 to 2006, but remained relatively high; they increased in Québec (QC had pre-charge Alternative Measures (AM)), which likely accounts for their increased use of extrajudicial sanctions. These decreased in Ontario, which had post-charge AM; they remained relatively steady in Alberta and decreased in BC. In short, because of data ambiguities, it is difficult make definitive statements about the use of extrajudicial sanctions, except to say that they have been implemented in the four provinces examined in this study.

In summary, our analysis has shown that police discretion has increased under the YCJA, and in particular in Ontario in comparison with the national average and the three other provinces. It remains lower for Criminal Code offences, almost the same for violent offences, and is comparable to the national average and the rate in Québec with respect to property offences. Police discretion represents only one form of diversion. It is important to keep in mind that under the YOA, Ontario and a few other jurisdictions had implemented a post-charge alternative measures program. However, it was not feasible for us to deconstruct the results pertaining to the post-charge alternative measures because of the way these cases are defined in the Youth Court Survey data. This being said, diversion is being used more extensively than it had been under the YOA, and Ontario is at the forefront of the change in police discretionary practices.

Youth Court Sentences

Data on sentencing decisions were examined with particular attention given to the new sentencing options included in the YCJA, including those viewed as more intensive or interventionist, such as deferred custody or referral to an intensive support and supervision program. We examined the number of cases referred to youth court and the type of decision, such as “stayed, withdrawn and dismissed,” because we were advised that a large portion of these cases are generated by the use of extrajudicial sanctions. We also examined custody and probation data. CCJS youth court data includes court sentences and reports them according to the “most serious” sentence. For example, if a young person was sentenced to probation and a fine, only the former would be included in the database. This data is presented in Tables 8, 9 and 10 in Appendix II below.

First, it is evident that there is an across-the-board decrease in the number of cases referred to youth court from 2002–2003 to 2005–2006. These numbers range from 11% in Québec to 57% in BC, with Ontario at 42% and the national average at 35%. Ontario also has the lowest percentage of guilty pleas, which is understandable under the circumstances, since they historically made more use of post-charge alternative measures via the “stayed, withdrawn and dismissed” provisions; as well, they continue to implement extrajudicial sanctions under the YCJA. Thus, this approach would logically reduce the number of guilty pleas in comparison with many jurisdictions that had implemented pre-charge alternative measures. An analysis of youth court data also indicates a very substantial across-the-board decrease in the use of custody between 2002–2003 and 2005–2006. More specifically, nationwide, the number of youth court custody sentences was down by 100% (Canada-wide), 100% in Québec, 74% in Ontario, 137% in Alberta and 130% in BC. However, Ontario continues to incarcerate proportionately more youth than it should, taking into account the proportion of its population in comparison with the rest of the country. For example, with approximately 40% of the Canadian population, Ontario incarcerated about 54% of the total number of youth incarcerated in Canada as a whole. This is particularly worrisome when we consider that this proportion was 45% in 2002–2003. The upside is that things appear to be changing in Ontario, but not as quickly as in other regions of the country.

While it is likely that the YCJA restrictions on the use of custody and its sentencing principles have had a major effect on the reduction in the use of custody, it is also possible that the changes in police charging practices have had an impact on the level of custodial sentences. In a 1994 study of the YOA, Moyer (1994) concluded that the only factor that could be correlated with the increased use of custody after the proclamation of the YOA was the change in police charging practices. As noted above, the police charged many more youth under the YOA than they had under the JDA, and often for minor offences. It should be noted that Ontario continues to lag behind the other comparison provinces in its reduction of the use of custody. Thus, it is likely that Moyer’s conclusions would apply to Ontario’s performance under the YCJA.

With respect to Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision (IRCS) orders, it should be noted that all of these were not included in the CCJS data because the available data ends with the 2005–2006 fiscal-year, and there have been several cases since then. More up-to-date counts for these orders were provided by federal youth justice officials, since the provinces are provided with special funding related to these types of interventions, so that the federal figures contain the most recent claims for support. CCJS data suggests that only eleven IRSC sentences were given from April 1, 2003 to March 31, 2006. However, the figures provided by Justice Canada showed that there have been thirty-four IRCS cases from April 1, 2003 to December 31, 2007. Ontario reported the highest number, with sixteen cases in total, Alberta had six cases, BC had five and Québec had none. We were also informed by Ontario representatives that they had had seventeen IRCS cases since the implementation of the YCJA and that thirteen of these were still active. The difference in count for Ontario is likely the result of the fact that Ontario had not yet submitted a financial claim to Justice Canada for one of the IRCS cases.

The data reveal that youth courts are increasingly using some of the new sentencing options included under that YCJA, such as deferred custody, intensive support and supervision, and nonresidential attendance centre orders. However, probation use is decreasing across the board nationally and in the four provinces we looked at. The use of non-residential attendance centres in Ontario is low, with only one case identified in 2005–2006. This low figure may be due to the fact that Ontario put this option in place recently and CCJS does not include data for 2006–07 or 2007–08. Finally, CCJS has not collected data on the number of adult sentences given to youth since the proclamation of the YCJA. However, we were advised by representatives of the Ontario Youth Justice Services Division (YJSD) that they have had thirty-one cases since April 1, 2003 in which adult sentences were given to youth. Youth court judges under the YOA only transferred a very small number of young offenders to adult court (i.e., about 0.4 to 0.6 of 1% of cases where a finding of guilty was made). Also, if Ontario serves as a model with its thirty-one cases, it is unlikely that many adult sentences have been given across the country since the YCJA came into force.

Table 9 indicates that there was a reduction in probation orders between 2002–2003 and 2005– 2006. During this period, probation sentences in Ontario and Alberta declined by 56%. These numbers are both lower than the national average but higher than Québec and BC. This change is likely the result of reduced charging practices as indicated by Moyer’s (1994) research on pre-and post-YOA police charging. In addition, during that same period, there was an increase in the use of deferred custody orders in Ontario and Québec, as well as across Canada. Intensive support and supervision orders are extensively used in BC and across Canada, but not in Alberta, Ontario, and Québec. Finally, non-residence centre sentences were not very common, and only in Alberta was this sentence used extensively. These results indicate that the data on the new range of sentences varies so much that it is difficult for us to make an assessment of their use beyond noting the patterns described above.

We also reviewed the data pertaining to the length of custodial sentences and probation orders. Table 10 shows that the total number of custodial days has been substantially reduced nationally and in the four comparison provinces from 2002–2003 to 2005–2006. These results were expected given that the total number of custodial cases had also decreased substantially during this period. However, the mean and median duration of sentences were almost exactly the same under the YCJA and the YOA nationally and for the four comparison provinces. The only variation was in BC, where the number of days increased by almost 16% and 80% respectively. In addition, Alberta’s mean number of days also increased by 13%.

The relationship between custodial decisions and type of offence was also examined. While we did not present the data in a table, what we observed was quite interesting. After an examination of a number of offence categories (crimes against the person, crimes against property, administration of justice, other Criminal Code offences, etc.) for which young persons were found guilty in 2005–2006, we observed that a lot more young people were being given custodial sentences for non-violent offences than for crimes against the person. This was the case nationally as well as in all four of the jurisdictions reviewed in this report. For example, in Canada for 2005–2006, there were only 1,723 cases in which custodial sentences were awarded for crimes against the person out of a total of 6,355 custodial cases. In Ontario, the same pattern is evident, with 1,038 receiving custody for crimes against the person out of a total 3,446 cases in which custodial sentences were given. Thus, while progress is being made on the number of youth sent to custody under the YCJA, a large number of young people are still receiving custodial sentences for non-violent offences.

To summarize the data reviewed in this section, it is clear that Ontario is sending fewer cases to court, since it is second only to BC and well under the national average. BC and Québec have high rates of guilty pleas, while these are low in Ontario and Alberta. For Ontario, the lower percentage of guilty pleas is likely due to its higher use of extrajudicial sanctions. As well, there have been large decreases in the use of custody nationally and in the four jurisdictions. However, Ontario lags behind in comparison with the other three provinces and in comparison with the national average. The average custodial sentence is almost the same under the YCJA as it was under the YOA. The mean and median number of days are almost exactly the same under the two Acts. Finally and importantly, the Youth Court Survey data revealed that despite lower charging rates and lower overall custodial sentences, a substantial number of young people are being given custodial sentences for non-violent offences in all jurisdictions.


The CCJS has not collected recidivism data through its Youth Court Survey since the proclamation of the YCJA. Consequently, with no accessible national figures, it is difficult to provide an analysis of the potential impact the YCJA could have on youth recidivism in Canada. Past self-report studies with youth indicate that most young people will commit at least one delinquent act during adolescence, but a small proportion of youth commit most of the delinquent acts. For example, Savoie (2006:1) reported the results of a recent study on youth self-reported delinquency among Toronto students in grades 7 to 9. She found that “37% of Toronto students in grades 7 to 9 had been ngaged in one or more delinquent behaviours in their lifetime, through either acts of violence, acts against property or the sale of drugs.” She further found that “violent behaviour was twice as prevalent among boys (30%) compared with girls (15%); and, that boys were also slightly more likely than girls to report delinquent behaviour against property (30% versus 26%)” (2006:01).

Since an increasingly large proportion of youth in contact with or arrested by the police will be screened out of the youth justice system, it is likely that those appearing in court will have past criminal experiences. Furthermore, repeat contact with the youth justice system is a strong predictor of future adult criminality. For example, Doob and Cesaroni (2005) commented on Lee’s (2000) study. which showed “that the more times a youth is brought to court, the higher the likelihood of recidivism. She presented data on re-conviction within six months, one year, and two years of disposition” (2005:111). In another study, Thomas, Hurley and Grimes (2002) found that “in 1999/2000, 60% of the nearly 57,000 convicted offenders between 18 and 25 years of age had at least one previous conviction, either in adult criminal court or youth court.” They further found that “among recidivists, 28% had one prior conviction and 72% had multiple prior convictions” (2002:1). In another study, Carrington, Matarazzo and deSouza (2005) linked the CCJS Youth Court Survey to the Adult Court Survey to describe the court careers, up to the twenty-second birthday, of 100 Canadian-born persons, in six provinces, accounting for 78% of the population in Canada (including Québec, Ontario and Alberta). The study found, among other things, that an involvement in crime in the latter part of adolescence generally leads to fewer criminal incidents as adults. The study also observed that there was no clear pattern with respect to escalation, de-escalation or stability in the seriousness of repeated court referrals, since all three categories of behaviour were present in the cohort. These results confirm previous research that most youth will experiment with delinquent behaviour, but a small number account for the bulk of delinquent acts. Fréchette and LeBlanc (1987) refer to adolescent delinquency as an epiphenomenon.

As more minor young offenders are screened out of the youth justice system, those ultimately referred to court will likely be more criminalized. Our interviews indicated that those youth who are presently processed through court and end up on probation or more stringent sentences under the YCJA are likely to have been previously involved in more delinquent behaviour than those who might have been processed under the YOA.


The 2004 General Social Survey3 (Aucoin and Beauchamp, 2007) found that 28% of Canadians aged fifteen years and older reported being victimized at least once during the preceding twelve months. This represented a slight increase (26%) from 1999. Québec (59) had a lower rate of violent victimization per 1,000 households than the rest of Canada (106). Ontario (112) and BC (108) had slightly higher rates while Alberta’s (160) was considerably higher. With regard to household victimization, Québec (232) and Ontario (233) had similar rates, which were lower than the national average. Alberta (331) and BC (376) were also similar and much higher than the Canadian (248) average. The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics suggests that personal lifestyle characteristics such as sex, age, marital status, main activity, frequency of going out in the evening, household income and location of residence are all contributing factors to personal victimization.

The risk of violent victimization in 2004 remained low and stable compared with 1999, but the rate of household property theft and vandalism increased from previous years (1988, 1993, and 1999). Women and men experienced similar levels of violent victimization, but rates of violent victimization were the highest among young people and First Nations people.

In summary, data on victimization from the CCJS indicate that the level of victimization in Canada has remained stable for the most part. The nature, scope and profile of victimization has essentially not changed over the past fifteen years or so.

A Comparative Analysis of the Four Provincial Jurisdictions

Provincial authorities in Canada were aware of the changes that would be required under the YCJA and had ample time to prepare for the new legislation. The changes that were required were different for each provincial jurisdiction, depending on what they had in place under the YOA. In this regard, Québec may have been most prepared, given the extensive array of community-based programs it had prior to the implementation of the YCJA. This was a result of their philosophy and approach to young offenders and the way services are provided to young people in the province under the Québec Youth Protection Act. However, jurisdictions such as British Columbia also had well-established community alternatives under the YOA. In Alberta, youth justice committees were established in the province in 1992 and dealt with extrajudicial sanctions, which were alternative measures under the YOA. The situation in Ontario is somewhat different, since community-based alternative programs have not been extensive in the province and efforts are now under way to expand these type of “front-end” options. While there is no direct evidence about the impact of these differences, some insight can be gleaned from the data available on the use of diversion in each of these provinces since its use could vary based on the availability of community options.

An important point of comparison is how the response to young people in conflict with the law is organized in each jurisdiction. In general, there appears to be a movement toward an integrated, holistic approach in all four provinces. In the past, such an approach distinguished Québec from other Canadian jurisdictions since it provided a range of integrated services based on the needs of the young person, which included both child welfare and youth justice interventions. At the present time, services for young people in Québec are provided through Youth Centres funded by the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS). These centres provide a range of programs for young people up to eighteen years of age who are subject to either the YCJA or the Québec Youth Protection Act.

The situation in British Columbia is that youth justice was part of youth corrections until 1997, when the province consolidated youth services under the newly created Ministry of Children and Family Development. This ministry now has jurisdiction over all aspects of youth justice. A similar development has taken place more recently in Ontario where, prior to the YCJA, young offenders who were twelve to fifteen years of age were dealt with by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, while the Ministry of Corrections dealt with sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds. Currently, jurisdiction over all young offenders lies with the recently created Ministry of Children and Youth Services through its Youth Justice Services Division. In Alberta, jurisdiction for youth justice is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, while youth corrections is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Public Security. However, through the Alberta Children and Youth Initiative, a great deal of discussion and planning has taken place regarding how to best integrate services for young people in the province.

The changes in jurisdiction described above represent a movement toward a more holistic and comprehensive approach to young people in conflict with the law. The provincial representatives we interviewed mentioned the benefits of having the jurisdiction for young offenders in one ministry. Not only does this result in a common philosophy and purpose, it also avoids the fragmentation that can develop when multiple players are involved in providing services if they are from different disciplines, organizations, and with different mandates. The benefit of an integrated approach has also been noted in the research literature on international jurisdictions, where the changes that have taken place, in England and Wales for example, were seen as a way of providing a common purpose and eliminating the potential for conflict and fragmentation that had existed among different service providers in the past. The ability to deal effectively with whatever problems or issues a young person is facing was mentioned as a real advantage in several of the jurisdictions, including British Columbia and Québec, where child welfare and mental health services are under the same ministry as youth justice, thereby providing the potential for a comprehensive response.

Preparing for the implementation of the YCJA meant investing in the creation of new sentencing options available under the Act, such as IRCS, ISSPs, Attendance Centre orders, as well as community alternatives for EJM and EJS, including those using a restorative justice approach. The federal government offered to contribute to these new services by providing bridge funding. All of the jurisdictions benefited from these additional resources except Ontario, since it did not participate in the first three years of this five-year funding program.

With respect to IRCS, these have been used sparingly since the YCJA was implemented. Figures provided by the federal Department of Justice indicate that there have been thirty-four IRCS cases to date across the country, including sixteen in Ontario, six in Alberta, five in BC, and none in Québec. The discrepancy between Ontario and the other jurisdictions is surprising, since in 2006, they had the lowest overall crime rate for all offences. The number of youth charged by the police and, more importantly, the number of youth given custodial sentences should be of concern to those in Ontario responsible for administrating youth justice.

Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that while Québec had the second lowest crime rate in 2006, it has only had two IRCS cases since the YCJA came into effect. This suggests a very different approach to the use of IRCS in Canada’s two largest provinces. It is also important to note that the number of IRCS cases over all is very small given the number of youth charged each year. During our interviews with provincial representatives, this reality was evident, such that while they were aware of and concerned about youth violence, it accounts for a very small proportion of youth crime and their response to it.

While Québec may not have had the largest reduction with respect to charging practices, when taking into account its youth population, it had the lowest charging rate in all offence categories under the YOA in comparison with Canada as a whole and to the three other provinces. This trend has continued under the YCJA. Ontario appears to be following the national trend in terms of reductions in charging rates, but lags behind Québec and BC when we take into account the comparative youth populations. This is particularly the case for crimes of violence, where Ontario is higher than all the jurisdictions and the national average.

The provincial representatives reported that the needs of those young people who make it into the system have increased significantly as their number have dropped. Each of the jurisdictions has devoted more resources to these young people, including for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. This was the focus of much of the discussion with the Alberta and BC representatives who noted the mental health needs of many of the young people charged with serious or repeat offences. They were also very positive about their new mental health resources, including the impact that a comprehensive planning approach has had. The lower number in custody has allowed them to provide more intensive services to these young people.

Police discretion has increased under the YCJA, and in particular for Ontario in comparison with the national average and the three other provinces. Police discretion is lower for Criminal Code offences, while it is almost the same for violent offences. The situation with respect to property offences is that police discretion has remained steady at the national average. In Alberta, the police can decide to take no action, warn a young person, refer the young person to a community program or refer directly to an extrajudicial measures program. The difference between a police referral (extrajudicial measures) and a Crown referral (extrajudicial sanctions) in Alberta is that a young person can be referred back to court for not successfully completing the extrajudicial sanctions program. However, pursuing the charges in question requires a judicial review before the Crown attorney can proceed. In British Columbia, the police can also use their discretion to refer young people involved in minor crimes to local community-based extrajudicial measures programs at the pre-charge stage. All charges in BC, however, are Crown approved. The Crown also has the option of issuing a caution or making a referral to extrajudicial sanctions. In Ontario, the police may refer a young person to a youth justice committee before a charge is laid, while the Crown may refer a youth after a charge is laid. The situation in Québec is slightly different. The police are using their discretion and handling many cases informally while also making referrals to community alternatives. However, they are not using cautions in the province. While they have youth justice committees in some Aboriginal communities in Québec, extrajudicial measures and extrajudicial sanctions are provided through community-based youth-serving agencies.

The evidence gathered on the implementation of the YCJA in the four provincial jurisdictions reviewed in this paper suggests that there is more commonality in their approaches than there had been in the past. Many of the factors that made the Québec approach unique are being adopted in other provinces since the YCJA, such that a comprehensive continuum of services is being developed in Alberta, BC and Ontario. While the connection between youth justice and child welfare/child protection is still more direct in Québec, the differences are less pronounced now that jurisdictions such as BC and Ontario have created single ministries responsible for services for children and youth. Part of the reason for this convergence may be due to the provisions of the YCJA with regard to reserving custody for only the most serious young offenders. This has resulted in more specialized and intensive services for the small group of individuals being sentenced to custody. As well, the implementation of the YCJA has resulted in the creation of more extensive programs and services for young people in the community.

Differences in the various approaches remain important, however, with respect to the way each province responds to young people in conflict with the law. Thus, for example, charging rates and the use of diversion vary considerably. So too does the use of custody, including IRCS. These variations reflect the particular policies and protocols developed in each jurisdiction so that even though the police in each province are able to exercise their discretion, this is happening more often in some jurisdictions than others. The same is true with respect to the use of discretion by Crown attorneys. The results are evident in the data available for each jurisdiction with respect to charges, diversion and the use of custody.

Part III:

Youth Justice in Selected International Jurisdictions

In order to better understand how countries across the world approach youth justice, we considered the experiences of four countries with youth justice systems comparable to Canada’s, including England and Wales, France, Scandinavia, and the United States. Conducting an international comparison is difficult, and Tonry and Doob (2004) suggest that we need to understand the broad context of a country’s history and institutions if we are to understand their approach to youth justice.

There are few comprehensive international comparative analyses of youth justice and, as Muncie and Goldson (2006) indicate, even those that do exist often limit their research to describing the historical emergence and the powers and procedures of particular jurisdictions. In light of this, we reviewed available comparisons of youth justice systems undertaken by recognized experts in the field. We decided to include an overview of England and Wales because of the common law approach taken there and since, historically, their criminal justice policies have been emulated in Canada. As well, both countries have comparatively high youth incarceration rates. France was included in this overview because of the similarities it has to Québec’s social intervention philosophy. As well, its recent responses to violent and repeat young offenders may offer valuable insights for how we address these issues. We also chose to review the youth justice system in the United States because of its proximity to Canada and its ongoing influence on our youth justice system. We were also asked to review the approach taken in Scandinavian countries to explore how they deal with youth justice.

While a detailed and extensive review of the youth justice systems of these four jurisdictions is beyond the scope of this paper, it is possible to provide a general overview of how the youth justice systems in these countries have developed and changed over time. Such an international comparison can help to put the current discussion about youth justice in Canada into a broader context. Moreover, considering how other countries have dealt with common concerns such as youth violence can provide insights and ideas about how we might proceed in the future. Thus, for each of the four jurisdictions reviewed, we provide a brief overview of the historical development of their youth justice systems. We then consider how the specific features of their respective approaches relate to our experience, including the forces for change and the nature of the response. Finally, we examine if youth violence has been a concern, and if so, what types of strategies have been developed in each of these jurisdictions.

Youth Justice in England and Wales

The development of the youth justice system in England and Wales (hereafter England) is similar to what happened in other western nations such as Canada and the United States, with several important exceptions. In particular, the intense politicization of youth justice in England over the past fifteen years has resulted in changes that have differentiated its youth justice system from those in continental Europe and North America. In this brief synopsis, we review the major developments in youth justice in England and consider them in light of the implications they have for the Canadian youth justice system.

The beginning of a separate youth justice system in England dates to the passage of the Children Act of 1908, the same year as the Juvenile Delinquents Act was passed in Canada (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002:130). Not surprisingly, the forces that were at work in Canada at the turn of the twentieth century also played a role in promoting changes to the way young people were dealt with in England. For example, there were growing concerns that juvenile offenders were being held in the same institutions as adults and treated in the same manner. At the same time, however, there were concerns over increasing juvenile crime rates. This led to delinquency being defined as a social problem. The Children Act attempted to address both of these concerns.

The philosophy underlying the new English legislation was based on social welfare principles, much as it was in the other countries that established a separate youth justice system at the time. These principles included a belief that children should be treated differently from adults and that their care and well-being should be a primary concern. Moreover, the sentiment was that young offenders should be dealt with separately from adult criminals so as to avoid the deleterious influences that exposure to them might cause. As well, the new Act stated that parents should take greater responsibility for their children and be more responsible for their wrongdoing (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002:130).

The establishment of youth courts in England appears similar to what happened in Canada. However, Bottoms and Dignan (2004:23) suggest that beyond dealing with children separately, English youth courts operated in much the same manner as adult criminal courts. While the English legislation contained both child welfare and juvenile crime provisions, “the so-called care jurisdiction of the juvenile court was always numerically and ideologically subordinate” (Bottoms and Dignan, 2004:23). Gelsthorpe and Kemp (2002:130) suggest that the introduction of the juvenile court in England resulted in a largely symbolic change in the prevailing attitudes toward juvenile offenders while remaining essentially a due process criminal court in practice.

According to Gelsthorpe and Kemp (2002:130), there was little change in youth justice in England until 1933, when the Children and Young Persons Act was passed. This legislation introduced a number of changes, including raising the age of criminal responsibility from seven to eight and establishing a select panel of magistrates for dealing with juveniles. The youth court magistrates were to have “the welfare of the child” in mind. They could also act “in loco parentis” and adjudicate “on family socialization and parental behaviour, even if no ‘crime’ as such had been committed” (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002:131).

After the Second World War, the consensus that emerged over the expanding welfare state supported a child welfare approach to youth justice and increased state involvement in social programs. At the same time, a growing concern over rising youth crime led to calls for a tougher stand, including “a new type of punishment to bring offenders to their senses and to act as a deterrent” (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002:132).

Goddard (2003:330) notes that increasing rates of youth being charged with crimes began to draw public attention in England in the middle 1950s, much as they did in other western nations. He states that “while recorded crime rose by only 5 percent in the decade following the end of the Second World War, there were major rises from 1957 onwards (121 percent between 1957 and 1967 and doubling again in the decade after that).” He goes on to indicate that the crime rate slowed down between the late 1970s through to the early 1990s, but it was still substantially higher than it had been a decade earlier. It was not until the mid-1990s that crime rates began to fall; again paralleling developments in other developed countries such as the United States (Goddard, 2003:330). Importantly, both Labour and Conservative governments in England would struggle with this issue.

The concerns over youth crime in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s led to a decade of discussion and consultation over youth justice. Two government white papers were produced during this period as well as two major reports (the Ingleby Report and Crime – A Challenge to Us All). This culminated in the introduction of the Children and Young Persons Act of 1969. A number of important changes to the youth justice system in England were proposed in the 1969 Act. For example, the Act

dictated that juveniles under 14 were not to be referred to the juvenile court solely on the grounds that they had committed offences (thus bringing Britain into line with many other European countries). Rather, where it could be established that such juveniles were not receiving the care, protection and guidance a good parent might reasonably be expected to give, it was proposed that “care and protection” proceedings should be brought (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002:133).

Gelsthorpe and Kemp (2002) point out that young people between the ages of fourteen and sixteen could face criminal hearings only after there had been a consultation involving the police and social service professionals. This provision reflected the expectation that these young people would also be dealt with under “care and protection” proceedings. The Act also restricted the power of magistrates both to transfer young people fifteen and over to adult courts and to sentence them to substantial periods of custody. Instead of detention and attendance centres, indeterminate sentences were created as a new type of treatment whose form would be decided by social service professionals. The consequence of these provisions was to “decriminalize” the court’s jurisdiction and reduce the number of young people sent there by diverting them. Earlier forms of detention, such as borstals, were also eliminated in a move toward “deinstitutionalization.”

These sentences were to be replaced by community alternatives (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002). As was the case in other western nations, the impact of social theories such as “labelling” and “de-institutionalization” were evident in the provisions contained in the 1969 Act.

The shifting political currents in Britain at the time played a major role in the changes that would be made to youth justice. The Labour Party, which had introduced the Children and Young Persons Act, was replaced by the Conservative Party in 1970. This resulted in a shift in ideology, including pressure on the consensus around which the 1969 Act had been built. Instead, the new government preferred to limit the role of the state and cut government spending, providing social services only as a last resort. What this meant in the case of juvenile justice was a split which had the Conservative Party, the magistrates, and to some extent the police on one side, and the Labour Party, social workers, and liberal reformers on the other. As Gelsthorpe and Kemp (2002:136) note, “the Conservatives made it clear that they would not fully implement the Act. When the Labour Party were re-elected in 1974, it was no longer politically or popularly viable to implement the Act in full. Thus, new welfare measures were added on to but did not replace the old punitive ones.”

In 1979, the Conservatives regained power under Margaret Thatcher. Crime control was once again an important issue in the election. The Conservative’s Criminal Justice Act of 1982 emphasized their law and order approach while dismantling many of the social welfare provisions of the 1969 Act. Personal and parental responsibility was stressed, as was the need for punishment to deter offenders. The 1982 Act contained new youth custody provisions, care orders with residential requirements, and community service orders. The impact of the 1982 legislation was paradoxical, however, since it resulted in both a reduction in the length of time young people spent in detention as well as a decrease in the number of care orders issued by the juvenile courts. Gelsthorpe and Kemp (2002) explain these apparently contradictory developments by suggesting that the magistrates did not follow the statutory procedures contained in the Act while case law emerged during this time which indicated that an offence had to be serious to warrant custody.

Bottoms and Dignan (2004:24) refer to what happened next as “merely the first stage in a series of often bewilderingly rapid changes in the English youth justice system, from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s.” These culminated with the return to government of the Labour Party after an eighteen-year hiatus. Reform of the youth justice system again represented a major issue in the election campaign, and it became a policy priority of the new government. New legislation soon followed in the form of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, which was implemented in June of 2000. The often-quoted promise of the Labour Party was, “We will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, and halve the time it takes persistent juvenile offenders to come to court” (Bradford and Morgan, 2005). According to Bottoms and Dignan (2004:25), the result was a “youth justice system that was more interventionist and correctionalist than the approaches that had immediately preceded it.” As Bradford and Morgan (2005:283) note,

the reasons for the change of mood in the early 1990s were: continuation of the upward trend in crime as measured by the British Crime Survey; some well-publicised urban disturbances involving young people (Campbell, 1993); shock waves from the Bulger case; police and official preoccupation with ‘persistent juvenile offenders’ (Hagell and Newburn, 1994); and New Labour’s ambitions to replace the Conservatives as the natural party of ‘law and order’.

The impact of the Bulger case in particular warrants comment. Giller (1999:395) argues that it led to “the persistent demonisation of youth, characterised most noticeably in the response to the two 10-year-old boys found guilty of the murder of James Bulger in 1993.” Goddard (2003:331) suggests that the case “prompted considerable national debate on the supervision and control of children.” As Graham and Moore (2006:65) point out, “within a year, new legislation – the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 – introduced stiffer penalties for juvenile offenders, including the extension downwards of long term detention to include 10 to 13-year-olds.”

The tensions between crime control and child welfare that had characterized the development of youth justice in England and Wales during the first half of the twentieth century continued to be play out as the century came to an end. As was the case in Canada, pressure for changing the youth justice system emanated from several competing sources. One expressed concern over the status of children and their need for special treatment and care and protection when these were not being provided by their families. A competing set of concerns had to do with the right of society to be protected from the misdeeds and harmful criminal behaviour of youth. Historically, those focusing on this concern have called for more and harsher punishments to deter youthful wrongdoing. A third concern focused on protecting children’s rights in their interactions with the state, whether this was to receive care and treatment or punishment. The latter reflected the views of groups with different ideological orientations, including those promoting children’s rights and those favouring a “just deserts” perspective. As we have seen, these competing perspectives have existed in England, often in the form of an uneasy and contradictory compromise.

The significance of the changes ushered in by the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act cannot be overstated. As Prior (2005:104) notes, “Commentators were quick to recognise the 1998 Act as a landmark piece of legislation in the history of youth justice, heralding a radical and far-reaching set of reforms.” Arthur (2004) argues that the Act included an ideological commitment to punishing wrongdoing, which resulted in an increase in the number of young people brought before the court. According to Goldson (1999), this reflected the Labour government’s tough stance on youth crime. The consequence, according to Arthur (2004:309), was that “the innovative approaches in the Act were not prioritised. What’s more, they have been underfunded and only partially implemented.” He goes on to point out that the Youth Justice Board that was established in the legislation to oversee youth justice was only going to allocate 1.11% of its total budget on innovative projects over the following three years. According to Giller (1999), “most commentators on the English and Welsh criminal justice scene identify that at the end of the 1990s there has been a marked return to a political consensus on youth crime, a consensus based on ‘punishment and responsibility’ as the core concerns.”

While a detailed description of the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 are beyond the scope of this brief overview, several of its major elements can be outlined. First, the stated purpose of the Act was to prevent offending and re-offending by children and young people. According to Graham and Moore (2006:66), this represented “a new single statutory aim for the juvenile justice system,” which was supposed to unite practitioners and have them all working toward a common purpose. According to Field (2007:311), the focus on a common purpose was to help overcome “established tensions between diverse practice cultures. A range of practitioners were brought together within the newly created Youth Offending Teams (henceforth YOTs) to coordinate youth justice services and implement the local youth justice plan.”

Besides the clear crime control provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act, it also focused attention on the “causes of crime,” namely the social forces related to criminality. To address these, the Act included provisions “to prevent re-offending through an interventionist, welfare approach reminiscent of the interventions in the 1960s and 1970s” (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002:143). The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act was passed in 1999, a year after the Crime and Disorder Act. It introduced a sentence of referral to a young offender panel which was based on the family conferencing approach developed in New Zealand, as well as reparation experiments that had already been conducted by the Thames Valley Police (Goddard, 2003:334). As a result of these changes, Gelsthorpe and Kemp (2002:143) suggest that “it is unclear where the balance lies between crime control and welfare.”

The age of criminal responsibility under the Act is ten, making England and Wales unique in Europe in this regard. If the police believe a young person has committed an offence, they can give an informal warning. The parents must be consulted and the child must be interviewed before formal action can be taken. In the case of a minor offence, no formal action can be taken by the police if the young person admits guilt. The police can act formally and give a reprimand as well as a final warning. The latter will result in a referral to a Youth Offending Team for assessment and intervention. Further criminal activity by the young person would result in a court appearance.

If the young person appears in court, a variety of actions can follow. The court has the power to “bind over,” which is an order to the young person to keep the peace. The 1998 Act also established various options ranging from a reparation order, which could include writing a letter of apology, fixing whatever damage had been done or doing up to twenty-four hours of work over a three-month period. Referral orders were also created, which are for first-time offenders who plead guilty. In these cases, the youth is referred to a “young offender panel” of a Youth Offending Team. An attempt is made to develop a “young offender contract,” which can require the young person to attend school, make reparation to the victim or engage in a mediation program. Absolute discharges are also available under the Act, as are fines, compensation and a wide array of community service orders. The latter are for those sixteen and over and involve unpaid work in the community for up to 240 hours (Gelsthorpe and Kemp, 2002).

Young people under eighteen charged with an offence appear before specially constituted magistrates’ courts known as a Youth Court. These courts operate in an adversarial manner. They are closed to the public, but the press is allowed to be present and report on the proceedings (Graham and Moore, 2006:71). Children and young people can be tried in the adult Crown Court under special circumstances and they can be sent back to youth court for sentencing. “These circumstances include: those charged with homicide; those charged with a serious offence for which a person aged 21 or over could be sentenced to at least 14 years imprisonment; those charged with the offence of indecent assault; and those charged jointly with a person aged 18 or older (who may also be committed to an adult magistrates court)” (Graham and Moore, 2006:72).

A number of principles are articulated in the Act with respect to sentencing. For example, sentences must reflect the seriousness of the offence. In the case of serious violent crimes and offences of a sexual nature, the sentence must take notice of the need to protect the public. A second principle related to sentencing is that the welfare of the child or young person should be considered, but this should be secondary to the seriousness of the offence. If the accused is under fifteen years of age, the parents are implicated. They are expected to attend court and can be required to pay fines or compensation. The youth court can also order them to take care of and exercise control over their children (Graham and Moore, 2006:78).

Prior (2005) identifies three additional elements of the Act that require consideration. First, he says that the Act emphasizes new institutional arrangements based on a multi-agency, partnership approach. He also notes that in practice, numerous programs and initiatives have been developed to respond to a range of “at-risk” youth. These programs are targeted at youth with problems that may lead to offending. They also offer ways of addressing the social and economic factors that have an impact on criminality. Finally, the new Act stresses the importance of research by requiring that policy and practice be evidence based.

Critics of the legislation argue that it has resulted in an expansion of control over young people, with many more being given custodial dispositions. The number of juvenile offenders dropped between 1992 and 2002 by 8%, going from approximately 197,000 to 181,000. However, an increasing number of younger children and adolescents appeared in the youth justice system for less serious offences than in the previous decade. What is more, Prior (2005:104) argues that the system blurs the line between criminal and non-criminal behaviour “by introducing the concept of ‘anti-social behaviour’, which includes behaviour that does not constitute a criminal offence, and establishing new court orders to deal with it; and by making it possible for children below the age of criminal responsibility, and who are therefore legally incapable of committing crimes, to be made subject to court orders to control their behaviour.”

Graham and Moore (2006:80) report that nearly 7,000 juveniles were given custodial sentences in England and Wales, including 237 who were under the age of fourteen. They go on to suggest that this represents approximately 3.1% of the prison population, which is much higher than other countries in Europe. Goldson and Muncie (2006:92) concur, arguing that the rates of child imprisonment in England are higher than those found in most other industrialized democratic countries in the world.

Bradford and Morgan (2005:286) list a number of criticisms of the legislation, noting that “The 2004 Audit Commission report, for example, found that too many minor offenders are appearing before the courts; the amount of contact time with offenders subject to supervision orders has not increased; public confidence remains low; and black, minority ethnic and mixed race offenders remain substantially overrepresented among this stubbornly high custodial population.” Further, they note that in addition to the Audit Commission Report, a number of academics have been critical of the legislation. The critics have concluded that there is little evidence that the new system has been effective. Instead, it has drawn ever-increasing numbers of young people into the criminal justice system (Bradford and Morgan, 2005:286).

There can be little doubt that the Crime and Disorder Act has had a tremendous impact on the youth justice system in England and Wales. What is less clear, however, is how the legislation is balancing the child welfare and youth justice concerns that have influenced the development of youth justice in England and Wales for over a century. The increased use of custody provides evidence that its “law and order” provisions have been enacted. Its record on child welfare, on the other hand, is equivocal at best. There is little doubt, however, that for England and Wales, the Crime and Disorder Act represents “the most radical overhaul of the youth justice system in fifty years” (Goldson, 2000, p. vii, cited in Goddard, 2003:332).

Youth Justice in France

The population of France is 64 million, giving it roughly twice as many people as Canada. The country is divided into twenty-six administrative regions, which are further subdivided into 100 units (known as departments) and 342 communes. It has a centralized form of government, which is similar to what exists in England and Wales. The difference is that the national bureaucracy that is situated in Paris is much more powerful. In recent years, the metropolitan regions have been given a greater say in the operation of the government.

Historically, the French bureaucracy has provided stability and consistency with respect to administrative and judicial decision-making. However, critics of the system charge that it can be rigid, inaccessible and somewhat independent of political pressure. This has had an impact on the creation and implementation of criminal law, including youth justice (Gendrot, 2006). It is important to recognize that there have been many efforts during the last twenty years or so to make legislative changes in France. Most of these have failed, mainly because of the bureaucracy’s power to delay and even reject proposed legislation. Because of this, French politicians have used the enactment of new policies rather than legislation to bring about change. This particular situation makes it more difficult for us to describe France’s legislative evolution with respect to youth justice, because it is often intertwined with a variety of policy initiatives brought about by the various right-or left-leaning governments.

A Legislative Perspective

Prior to 1945, youth justice in France was influenced by the notion of “discernment,” which led judges to lean either toward corrections or detention when dealing with young people in conflict with the law. Major changes were made immediately after World War II to the way children and youth are dealt with in France. The ordinance or edict of February 2, 1945 altered existing practices and gave priority to educational measures over criminal sanctions. As well, the right to education for delinquent minors was affirmed, and this right remains in effect. According to Gendrot (2006), the objective of the 1945 ordinance was to establish education over repression. Wyvekens (2006:180) concurs and goes on to point out that

French juvenile court judges have a dual competence: criminal in the case of a delinquent minor, based on the ordinance of 2 February 1945, and civil when protecting a child in danger, based on article 375 and following of the Civil Code. In both cases, the measures that the judge may impose are essentially educational.

The election of a conservative President and Parliament in the spring of 2002 brought legislative changes to the country. On September 9, 2002, a new law was passed that defined new priorities for justice. Wyvekens (2006) concludes that most of the changes focused on expanding pretrial detention provisions, particularly for minors sixteen years of age or older.

There are three categories of offences in the French youth justice system. These include serious violent offences (“crimes”), lesser violent offences and property offences (“delits”), and minor offences (“contraventions” with five levels). Each type of offence is dealt with by a different type of court. This is the case regardless of whether the accused is an adult or a minor. The youth justice system in France has three age categories: i) ten-to thirteen-year–olds, who are referred to as “jeunes mineurs;” ii) thirteen-to sixteen-year-olds; and iii) those sixteen and seventeen years of age. It is also possible for young adults (called “jeunes majeurs”) who are eighteen to twenty-one years of age to ask to be dealt with as youth under special circumstances.

In general, the police do not have discretionary power; however, they can exercise quasi-judicial discretion in four of the five types of minor offences termed “contreventions.” However, as Wyvekens (2006:178) notes,

When a minor is arrested, he cannot be held in police custody without the agreement of the prosecutor’s office (‘parquet’). To avoid police custody, the prosecutor occasionally asks the police to call the minor back for voluntary questioning. The prosecutor also has the right to decide whether the minor will be brought before him or not. He can ask the police to proceed with a “rappel à la loi,” whereby the police officer informs the minor, with his parents present, of the sentence he can incur for the offence of which he is accused. If the minor does not have a police record and the charges are not serious, the prosecutor can also impose a settlement; this is accomplished by means of the judicial police officer. And lastly, in areas that have a community justice centre (maison de justice et du droit, MJD), the prosecutor can order the minor to be brought before the prosecutor’s representative.

As a general rule, minors under the age of sixteen cannot be held in police custody. However, as Wyvekens (2006) indicates, an exception can be made when a thirteen-to sixteen-year-old has committed or attempted to commit a serious violent offence that is punishable by five years or more imprisonment. Minors thirteen to seventeen years of age can be put on probation under certain conditions, and as Wyveken (2006) notes, pretrial detention is an exceptional measure.

The youth court system in France is structured along the lines of the age of the accused and the nature of their offence. The “cour des assises des mineurs” deals with “crimes” involving youth aged sixteen or older, while those less than sixteen involved in these types of crimes are dealt with by the “tribunal pour enfants.” In the case of “delist,” these are heard by a “juge des enfants” or by a “tribunal pour enfants.” Finally, “contraventions” are dealt with by a “juge des enfants” or by a police court in the case of the least serious of the minor offences (level 5).

In the case of custodial sentences (art. 20–2), juvenile judges cannot impose a custodial sentence longer than half the sentence that would be given to an adult convicted of the same offence. This type of sentence can only be imposed in exceptional cases and only with minors over sixteen years of age. Minors can only be incarcerated in a special prison section or in a specialized penal institution for minors.

France has different types of non-residential centres, such as the centres d’action éducative en milieu ouvert and residential facilities. All have an educational approach to the young people they serve. The secure educational centres (centres éducatifs renforcé) provide treatment to minors who are delinquent or seriously marginalized and are in danger of recidivism. Placement in a closed educational centre represents a recent development providing a new form of placement. The term “closed” in this case refers to the fact that the sanction for failure to respect such a disposition is placing the young person in a youth jail for pretrial detention

A Policy Initiatives Perspective

France has gone through four distinct youth justice phases. The first phase involved the enactment of the 1945 ordinance mentioned above, and its priority was to establish education over repression. The second phase essentially began with the successful revision of the ordinance in 1958, in which the concepts of “youth at risk” or youth “as a risk to others” were introduced. A youth court judge could send a minor to one of the many and diversified types of institutions that began to appear at the time. These institutions ranged from private boarding facilities to specialized educational institutions. The third phase came about during the early 1980s. Gendrot (2006) suggests that this transformation of French youth justice resulted from the implementation of a new prevention policy, which itself was a reaction to the shortcomings of specialized prevention and social work. Wyvekens (2006) believes that crime prevention in France is an area closely associated with the general issue of how to deal with minors. In fact, crime prevention was viewed as the major tool to reduce youth crime and prevent youth at risk from embarking on a life of crime. Thus, during the third phase, crime prevention policies superseded legislative intervention. French-style prevention is known primarily for its social and educational nature, which differs from the Anglo-American emphasis on situational crime prevention.

Both Gendrot and Wyvekens suggest that crime prevention experienced a renaissance in France in the early 1980s. This renaissance was based on the work done by a commission comprised of the mayors of medium and large French cities. They published a document known as the “Bonnemaison Report” (Commission des maires sur la sécurité, 1982). This report promoted what would later be termed local public safety policies or partnerships, based on the authority of the mayor, under the banner of prevention. Several types of crime prevention strategies for dealing with young people were developed as a result of the Bonnemaison Report. These were undertaken initially by Crime Prevention Councils set up by cities (conseils communaux de prévention de la délinquance, CCPD). Later, prevention activities were developed under Local Security Contracts. The crime prevention activities consisted of community initiatives, extracurricular and general recreational activities offered mainly to youth in the most troubled neighbourhoods.

The shift from social prevention policies to security-oriented policies marks the beginning of the fourth phase in the recent history of French juvenile justice. Gendrot (2006) suggests that the change, which is currently underway in France, is best understood as a change in attitudes and perceptions related to urban safety. During the 1980s and 1990s, “banlieues” came to epitomize the anxiety elicited by deep political, economic and social/spatial transformations. “Banlieues” are the ghettos that have developed in the suburbs of French metropolitan areas. They mainly house the poor and ethnic minorities, who have come to feel increasingly marginalized by French society. The young people in these areas have been particularly vocal and active in the past several years, contributing to violence and unrest.

As both geographic and social entities, “banlieues” have focused the debate in France on social insecurity. Gendrot (2006:54) states that while “some countries construct ‘dangerous others’ out of asylum seekers, racial minorities, nationalists, and hooligans, France has constructed a ‘peril out of an urban male youngster, particularly the poor Muslim male, born from North-African parents.’” The unrest and violence that has taken place in the “banlieues” has resulted in a push for increased crime control in France.

The Recent Youth “Crisis”

Wyvekens (2006) suggests that over the past few years, public perceptions in France are that juvenile delinquency is on the rise and that those involved are becoming younger and more violent. A debate has begun on these perceptions, including whether the evidence is sufficient to justify the crime control policies that have emerged. Data from the Ministry of the Interior suggest that the number of juvenile delinquents (pretrial) has skyrocketed from 76,846 in 1974 to 180,382 in 2000, an increase of 137%. As well, juveniles are thought to be responsible for 21% of all crimes, particularly street crimes. However, Gendrot (2006) believes that these statistics refer only to cases that were cleared. She and others (such as Mucchielli, 2004 and de Cavarley et al. 2002a) believe that the higher number of juvenile delinquents coincides with crimes that are the easiest detected by the police because they are the most visible. At the same time, they include the crimes that are most frequently sent to prosecutors. Wyvekens (2006) cites figures for 2004 and argues that they indicate a stabilization or slight decrease in the number of offences involving minors. She looked at self-report studies and concluded that the results indicate an overrepresentation of delinquency among youth of foreign origin and that most youth involved in delinquent acts are seldom arrested. This is quite similar to the results of most North American self-report studies.

Youth charging and youth court processing data from the French Ministry of Justice indicate that over a five-year period, the number of youth actually processed through court only increased by 1% (from 59,476 individuals in 2001 to 60,291 in 2006), while the number of police contacts had increased by almost 10%. This implies that most of these, additional youth were diverted, likely because they were involved in minor offences. Further, during 2006, a total of 3,350 minors had been incarcerated. On January 1, 2007, of all those incarcerated in French prisons, only 729 were minors, with 63% of these being held in pretrial detention. Furthermore, of the 268 minors actually sentenced to a custodial period, slightly less than two-thirds had sentences of less than six months, while 21% had sentences of between six and twelve months. Only 16% of the young people sentenced to custody had sentences that were longer than twelve months.

At any given time, the number of youth thirteen to eighteen years of age who are incarcerated in France ranges from 500 to 1000. This represents 1% to 1.5% of the total number of inmates (ENAP 2002 in Gendrot 2006:49). France ranks in the middle among European countries with respect to youth custody, between the United Kingdom on the one hand and the Scandinavian countries on the other. On average, the length of detention is between five to seven weeks. According to public opinion polls, 63% of the French approve of transferring juvenile delinquents to adult courts (Libération, 28 October, 2001 in Gendrot: 49). Nevertheless, France continues to respect article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires specific treatment for juveniles and their isolation from detained adults.

Some of the statistics from the Ministry of Justice of France suggest a significant level of recidivism involving youth. For example, studies that monitored youth over a five-year period after their original sentences revealed that 55% of them were sentenced for at least another offence. However, 50% of those who re-offend do so during the year following the initial sentence. In another example, 24.6% of the youth sentenced in 2005 had been sentenced before. The 2005 data also suggest that youth recidivists are more at risk of getting a custodial sentence. In fact, only 4% of those with no previous court disposition were given a fixed custodial sentence for “délits,” while 19% of those previously sentenced were given a fixed custodial sentence for this category of offence. With respect to youth convicted of “crimes,” that is, much more serious offences, the proportions are 56% and 100% respectively.

The Recent Legislative Effort to Control Youth Crime

Wyvekens (2006) suggests that while the concern over youth crime is increasing in the country, French institutions remain singularly resistant to punitive populism and to its obsession with security. She believes that strategies such as trying juveniles as adults, using boot camps or other American style “law and order” measures would not be well received. A recent effort at legislative change in France illustrates this point. On March 5, 2007 new proposals were introduced by the government focusing on preventing delinquency. These were entitled “Renforcement de la lutte contre la récidive des majeurs et des mineurs.” These proposals were put forward to combat recidivism for both adults and youth. The proposals generated significant opposition from a number of youth professionals, including the judiciary. For example, Judge Daniel Pical (2007), the Associate President of the Versailles Youth Court of Appeal, authored a formal letter of opposition to the proposals as the representative of the International Association of Youth and Family Court Judges for the Council of Europe. The proposals would allow a thirteen-year-old to be given a twenty-year sentence. A minor, as defined by French law, who is a repeat offender, could see his/her sentence double. As well, attenuating circumstances could be eliminated for consideration in the sentencing of those aged sixteen or older, which would be similar to imposing an adult sentence under the YCJA.

We interviewed Judge Pical about his views on France’s youth justice system and the changes that have been proposed. He indicated that such an approach is not well received by those who provide youth-related services, including the judiciary. Nevertheless, attempts are under way to make the French juvenile justice system tougher in response to an increase in youth delinquency. Measures like the creation of closed educational centres are evidence that such a change is under way. Similarly, Wyvekens (2006) suggests that in France, as in other countries, an increase in the prosecutor’s power can be noticed, which has given rise to concerns about the double risk of more repressive sanctions and less protection of civil liberties. However, as noted at the outset, French institutions are known for their conservative nature. Importantly, the procureurs de la République, juges d’instruction and juges de la court all receive the same specialized Ministry of Justice training through l’École de la magistrature in Paris. Given this common professional socialization and their ongoing professional contacts, it should not be surprising that French legal institutions continue to resist public pressure for more punitive measures (Wyvenkens, 2006). Gendrot (2006) agrees, citing a1990 effort by the government to disregard the 1945 ordinance. This proposal never reached Parliament! Moreover, the 1945 ordinance still retains its main ideas, despite the fact that French politicians have amended it more than sixteen times over the years.

Youth Justice in Scandinavia

An in-depth assessment of the specific characteristics of the youth justice systems in each of the Nordic countries is beyond the scope of this paper. However, it is possible to present a broad overview of the underlying philosophy guiding youth justice in Scandinavia, as well as some of the historical and contemporary developments that have characterized their youth justice policy and practice. According to Storgaard (2004), the youth justice systems in Scandinavian countries can be considered together, since they have collaborated for much of the last century and, as Kyvsgaard, (2004:350) notes, until 1990, “a standing Nordic committee worked toward harmonization of penal codes.”

As a result of such close relationships and extensive cooperation, the Nordic countries have developed comparable youth justice systems. The approach taken in Scandinavia is closer to the German and French civil law tradition than it is to the common law approach used in Canada, the United States and England. However, its unique culture and history makes youth justice in Scandinavia markedly different from what has developed in continental Europe.

In order to facilitate this overview, specific examples were drawn from Sweden and Denmark to illustrate the key features and trends in Scandinavian youth justice. With this in mind, it is immediately apparent that one of the main differences between Canada and Scandinavia is that there is no formal youth justice system in Scandinavian countries. Instead, young people are dealt with by either the social welfare or legal authorities, depending on their age and the specifics of each case. The age of criminal responsibility in Scandinavia is fifteen. Children below this age involved in delinquent behaviour are dealt with by local welfare councils. Those older than fifteen are handled by the criminal courts in the same manner as adults. However, there are various options that can be used, depending on the age of the young person and their particular circumstances. For example, fifteen-to seventeen-year-olds can be dealt with by either a social welfare committee or the criminal justice system, and there are a variety of sanctions and measures that can be used to address their criminal behaviour. These include both voluntary and compulsory options, as well as different forms of custodial placements or even prison. In practice, however, almost no youth fifteen to seventeen end up in prison or in closed youth care. For example, in 2001, Sweden sent only three of 12,029 convicted youth fifteen to seventeen to prison and another 1% to closed youth care.

Youth between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one can also have access to social welfare remedies in certain special instances, and within the criminal justice system, they are subject to more moderate sanctions than adults. For example, in 2001, Sweden sent 7% of convicted youth eighteen to twenty to prison (733 out of 10,033) and only seventeen more to closed youth care (Junger-Tass, 2006; Sarnecki and Estrada (2006; Kyvsgaard, 2004; Feld, 1994).

The fact that Scandinavian countries like Sweden do not have formal youth justice systems does not mean that the way they deal with young people differs significantly from our own approach. As Feld (1994:626) points out, “the welfare authorities’ power to impose compulsory ‘care orders’ on young criminal offenders effectively creates a ‘quasi-juvenile court’ within an administrative, rather than a judicial, framework.”

In many ways, the development and evolution of youth justice in Scandinavia broadly reflects the Canadian experience. For example, at the beginning of the twentieth century, pressure mounted in the Nordic countries for a change in the way that young people were being treated, and there was a move to deal with them differently from adults. Several laws were passed in Sweden in 1902 that reflect this sentiment. Similar laws appeared in other Nordic countries around the same time. Denmark passed such a law in 1905, except that there, the age of criminal responsibility was set at fourteen (Kyvsgaard, 2004). As a result of these changes to the law, all sanctions for offenders under fifteen years of age were removed from the penal law (Janson, 2004:395). In Norway, the sentiment was that children below the age of eighteen should be educated and not punished (Kyvsgaard, 2004:354).

Norway fell in line with its Nordic neighbours in 1987, when it changed its age of criminal responsibility from fourteen to fifteen. Currently, young people under fifteen in Scandinavia cannot be held responsible for criminal acts. The criminal law in Sweden, for example, states that “No sanction shall be imposed upon a person for an offence committed before the age of fifteen” (Swedish Penal Code 1990:Ch. 1 § 6, cited in Feld, 1994). Instead, the matter is referred to a local Social Welfare Committee (SWC), which determines whether the child has committed a crime and what action is most appropriate to address the factors related to the behaviour and that meet the needs of the young person.

SWC members are local citizens with expertise in social welfare. Their responsibility is to ensure that the context within which a child is living is safe and healthy. The treatment response is voluntary; however, compulsory care orders can be made. As Feld (1994) points out, receiving welfare services is based on need and not on criminality. Voluntary participation is deemed to be very important, since it deals with the motivation young people and their parents will have to benefit from the services provided.

The humanistic philosophy that characterized Scandinavian society at the turn of the century was visible in its response to young people in trouble, such that their social welfare needs were emphasized over concerns about their delinquent behaviour. The social welfare authorities had a responsibility to attend to the care and guidance of children and provide them with an opportunity to live moral lives. As Janson (2004:395) points out, in Sweden, “child welfare committees were created to deal with vanart – advanced delinquency or moral neglect – in children below the age of 15.”

And while young people between the ages of fifteen and seventeen could be held criminally responsible, Sarnecki and Estrada (2006:474) note that they were sentenced to “forced care” instead of prison. This sentence was provided as a remedial measure by social welfare authorities, who sought the proper moral upbringing of the youth, either in the family home or in a foster home. In 1935, the Act on Child Care extended social welfare options even to those young people eighteen to twenty, but under specific circumstances. However, as Sarnecki and Estrada (2006:3) state, “youth prisons were established for young people who could not be treated within the social youth welfare system.”

In discussing youth prisons in Denmark, Kyvsgaard (2004) states,

The preamble to the law asserted the “the construction and arrangement of the youth prison will take care that it will be healthy and well situated by a lake or the seashore and with sufficient land so that gardening and agriculture besides different trades can form part of the work which is learned and conducted (Straffelolvskommissionen, 1917; cited in Kyvsgaard, 2004:356).

As was the case in Canada, the guiding principle behind the Scandinavian approach to youth justice was based on the social welfare principle that the authorities should act “in the best interests” of the child. As was noted above, the sentiment in Sweden was that this is best accomplished by the welfare system working at the local level, with the voluntary involvement of the young person and his or her parents. A comprehensive approach was favoured, including the participation and support of a wide array of key stakeholders in the community, such as the school, social services, the police, and the church. The abiding principle in these cases was to keep the family intact and provide services to the young person in the community. According to Feld (1994:630), “service options for children include day-care and free time centers, measures of assistance, advice, and support, admonitions to parents and warnings to children, and provision of alternative living arrangements.”

The Scandinavian countries did not follow the lead of other western nations, such as the United States and Canada, in setting up a separate and distinct system of juvenile justice. Instead, they took a pragmatic approach by creating a wide range of responses to young people that were consistent with the culture and values of the Scandinavian people. The social welfare approach evident in Sweden and throughout Scandinavia during most of the twentieth century reflects many of the beliefs that informed our own Juvenile Delinquents Act. For example, they saw young people in trouble as needing care, guidance, and protection, and they did not differentiate between neglected, dependant, and delinquent children. All were seen as needing care and support.

After World War II, a number of changes were introduced, which further emphasized the social welfare nature of the Scandinavian youth justice system. For example, in Sweden, the use of prison sentences for young people under eighteen were further limited, and “forced care was abolished and replaced by protective foster care in community homes” (Sarnecki and Estrada, 2006: 474). There was a concern that exposure to formal processing by the courts and living in institutions was deleterious for young people and should be used only as a last resort. This reflects the impact of labelling theory and the potential harm that it identified. In general, the emphasis in Scandinavia at the time was on treatment rather than punishment, and their goals were educative as opposed to punitive.

The same forces that were at work in Canada during this period, however, also influenced developments in Sweden and throughout Scandinavia. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was growing disillusionment with the treatment and rehabilitation philosophy that had informed youth justice from the turn of the twentieth century. In particular, concern was mounting over increasing rates for youth being charged with crimes. At the same time, the tremendous power of the authorities was being criticized, since it allowed extensive intrusion into the lives of young people while being ineffective in preventing youth crime. In then end, it did not matter whether a young person was in care or custody, or whether the institution was part of the social welfare or youth justice system. The key point was that these dispositions restricted a young person’s freedom and threatened their rights.

The growing disillusionment with treatment was exacerbated in Scandinavia, as it was throughout the western world, by the “nothing works” criticism that gained prominence during the middle 1970s. At the same time, the “de-institutionalization” movement made all forms of custodial orders increasingly unpopular. There was a general concern about the deleterious impact of treatment on young people, and especially the indeterminate sentences used in treatment orders. This raised issues related to the lack of proportionality in the way young people were being handled.

By the middle 1980s, there were clear signs that things were changing. The essential nature of the shift was away from rehabilitation and treatment toward a “just deserts” approach. Interventions into the lives of young people could no longer be justified on the basis of acting “in the best interests” of the child, even if the goal was to provide care or treatment. Restrictions of liberty were increasingly seen as punishment and unjustifiable when dealing with youth. Proportionality demanded that interventions only be undertaken in relation to the seriousness of the criminal offence committed.

At the same time, there were growing criticisms of the lack of consequences for young people involved in criminal behaviour. The use of withdrawal of charges (the equivalent of a suspended sentence in Canada) was seen as too lenient and having little impact on the accused. In response, a new sentence was introduced in 1997 known as the “youth contract.” This option was introduced in order to allow a more timely and meaningful response to crimes. Youth contracts involve the young person, his or her parents, and the social authorities who “prepare and sign a contract, which typically obliges the offender to participate in certain activities, for instance, finishing a training program. The contract must be approved by the court” (Kyvsgaard, 2004:371). This is an important development, since as Junger Tas notes, there are no alternative sanctions or community service orders available and mediation is rare (2006). The new youth contracts have met with mixed results, as there is no effective consequence for non-compliance and they have not been able to speed up the process to any great extent (Kyvsgaard, 2004:371).

As has been the case in Canada, there have been ongoing calls for change to the youth justice system. Several factors have been driving the push toward a more punitive approach. Chief among them is the perception that the level of youth crime has been growing steadily. The issue of youth violence has also received particular attention in Scandinavia, as it has here. The debate over the level of youth crime and youth violence has drawn the attention of the public, politicians, and social scientists alike. Several studies have attempted to examine existing data on youth crime to provide some factual information on what is actually going on. This has been challenging, however, since the complexity of the Scandinavian system makes it difficult to track the wide range of dispositions available through both social welfare and youth justice authorities. In response, researchers have looked at variety of sources of information, including official statistics on youth crime, self-report studies, and, in the case of violence, hospital records.

There is a general sense that the levels of reported youth crime increased in Scandinavia during the 1960s and 1970s. In Denmark, the youth crime rate “has remained stable for the last fifteen years, with a slight downward trend in the last few years” (Kyvsgaard, 2004:358. Janson (2004:427) notes that in Sweden, the rate of youth crime increased quickly after 1960, but levelled off in 1990. Storgaard (2004:192) concurs, noting that while there was a large increase from the 1950s to 2000, there was a levelling-off trend in the 1980s. She also points out that Scandinavian criminologists and other experts have agreed that juvenile crime rates are declining.

On the other hand, there is evidence that youth violence is on the rise. Kyvsgaard (2004:358) states that in Denmark, around 2% of reported criminal code offences are for violence. She notes that reported incidents of violence increased in the early 1990s, but levelled off at the end of the decade. According to Storgaard, (2004:192), Danish self-report studies among fifteen-year-old students showed that there were lower levels of violence in 1999 than there were in 1979.

Sarnecki and Estrada (2006) examined the results of victim surveys in Sweden and found that juvenile violence increased somewhat from the mid-1980s and levelled off by the 1990s, when they matched the levels of the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, they suggest caution in interpreting data on youth violence, since it is complicated. For example, they note that much of the increase is related to an increase in reporting of minor assaults taking place in schools. In their view, “the increase is preceded by a clear change in public awareness of juvenile crime. ‘Youth violence’ became the focus of the media in the summer of 1986, and politicians started campaigns, appointed commissions and amended legislation” (Sarnecki and Estrada, 2006).

Sarnecki and Estrada (2006) then examined hospital admission records to get another view of what was happening with respect to youth violence. They discovered that there was “no general increase in the numbers admitted for hospital care as a result of violence.” More importantly, perhaps, the statistics on fatal incidents of youth violence showed that “since the 1970s, violence resulting in death has not increased in terms of either the number of youths who are perpetrators or the number who are victims. The number of youths who die as a result of acts of violence has remained constant at approximately 16 individuals per year” (Sarnecki and Estrada, 2006).

A variety of explanations have been offered for the increase in rates for youth charged with crime and the focus on youth violence in Scandinavia. For example, demographic changes, and in particular, the growth in the youth population after the World War II is seen as a major contributor to the increased rates of youth crime that occurred from the 1970s to the 1990s. However, other social factors have also been identified as playing a role. Janson (2004), for example, argues that much of the increase in youth crime reported in Sweden from the 1950s onwards was related to an increase in property crime, and theft in particular. He points to the rise in auto thefts and joy-riding that were reported beginning after the war and relates this to the number of private automobiles present in the country. He notes that as the number of automobile increased, so did the incidents of auto theft and joy-riding. He also points out that the number of auto thefts peaked in 1991 (Janson, 407).

While other factors such as poverty, unemployment and drug use are mentioned in relation to the increases seen in youth crime, two factors require particular attention. The first is immigration. After World War II, Scandinavian countries retained much of their cultural and ethnic homogeneity. Thereafter, however, increasing levels of immigration led to a more heterogeneous society. In the 1980s, immigration was mainly from the Middle East and non-European countries. A number of authors have related the appearance of a large number of immigrants to the rise in the youth crime rate. Janson (2004), for example, notes that the rise in immigration created discontent based on the costs involved. More importantly, he reports on the widespread attitude that “immigrants have a higher propensity to crime than the general population” (2004:434).

Immigration has been especially significant to the political culture in Denmark with respect to youth violence. As Kyvsgaard (2004:386) states, “immigration and crime are often associated, and the Danish People’s Party has linked these issues by coupling ‘group rapes’ a new term in the Danish vocabulary.” Kyvsgaard goes on to describe the uproar that occurred in the country as a result of four incidents of rape involving immigrant or second-generation youth. She notes that the number of rapes committed by more than one person had been stable, but that it was higher in 2000 than it had been before. She is uncertain, however, whether the debate that ensued in the country was due to the rapes or the ethnicity of the perpetrators.

This last example is related to the role of various key actors in the Scandinavian response to youth crime and youth violence. Kyvsgaard (2004:387) points out that the media “has accentuated attention on violent and sexual offences.” She suggests that the focus is on specific crimes rather than crime trends, resulting in more severe punishments for these crimes and the impression that crime is an increasing problem. Sarnecki and Estrada (2006) suggest that press reports of “tragic and particularly bloody cases of violence” give the general impression that there has been a dramatic increase in violent youth crime, foreclosing discussion of what the data say. They note that there is a growing sentiment that these young people are being treated too leniently, and conclude that “this atmosphere has led politicians to perceive a need to show that they take juvenile crime seriously, and in particular violent crime” Sarnecki and Estrada, 2006).

The result has been a move toward toughening the response to youth crime across Scandinavia. As Kyvsgaard (2004:385) notes, “politicians to an increasing extent respond to specific celebrated crime, and such responses nearly always go in one direction – toward more interventions and harsher sentences.” In this way, the politicization of youth crime in Scandinavia has had a marked impact on the nature of their youth justice system. As Sarnecki and Estrada (2006) state, “The substantial reduction in the number of young persons convicted of crime has therefore been followed by a substantial tightening of both the law and its application in relation to young offenders.” They go on to conclude that while the humanistic view that has informed Scandinavian youth justice remains intact, it is under pressure to become more effective and tougher.

Youth Justice in the United States

The United States is viewed by many as an enigma with respect to its treatment of youth at risk and in conflict with the law. It has an international reputation of being tough on crime while being simultaneously at the forefront of new community interventions. It has a high rate of incarceration and waiver to adult court, it did not sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and until recently, a number of states had the death penalty for youth. Moreover, as Muncie and Goldson (2006) note, the justice system in the United States is often perceived worldwide as the pinnacle of punitiveness.

The US does not have a national juvenile justice system. In fact, youth justice varies substantially from state to state, though as Snyder (2002) suggests, the US Constitution, federal policies and legislation, and political pressures produce significant common features. He further states that “these inherent variations provide many opportunities to test different approaches and new programs and to learn from others, but they make it difficult to describe succinctly the delivery of juvenile justice in the United States” (2002:43). On the other hand, observers such as Bishop and Decker (2006) believe that during the 1970s, there was a considerable degree of “federalization” of juvenile justice policy in the US, resulting in somewhat lesser heterogeneity across states than was true in the past.

The American positivist movement provided strong leadership in the development of a separate justice system for juvenile delinquents during the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The states of Illinois and Colorado were at the forefront of this movement. It promoted a parens patriae philosophy, which cast the youth court as a firm but understanding parent when the family failed to meet its obligations. Pound (cited in Krisberg, 2006) believes that the American juvenile court was the greatest step forward in Anglo-American law since the Magna Carta.

Bishop and Decker (2006) suggest that over the last century, and most especially since the 1960s, juvenile justice policy has shifted dramatically, undergoing a series of reforms that have reshaped the system and challenged the principles upon which it was founded. More specifically, the 1960s and 1970s brought doubts about rehabilitation, and the 1967 Supreme Court decision in the Gault case, among others, spearheaded a movement toward a more structured legal framework for juveniles, which stressed their rights and created due process safeguards. Krisberg (2006:7) states that “the conception of a benign Children’s Court that always acted in the best interests of the child was replaced with new attention to the legal rights of minors.” In the end, the changes that took place during this period brought the youth justice system much closer to the adversarial adult criminal justice system.

In the majority of states, the juvenile courts still have jurisdiction over children and youth with respect to status offences and criminal matters, although, as mentioned by Bartollas (2003), several states, including Maine, New York, and Washington, have decriminalized status offences, thus removing them from the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. It is often difficult for policy-makers and practitioners to determine which of the two models should be used; that is, the child welfare or the youth justice system. Moreover, as Snyder (2002) points out, most states in the United States have not been able to decide between them. Hence, they characterize thirty-two states as having both a prevention/diversion/treatment orientation and a punishment orientation in their legislative goals.

The 1970s brought widespread efforts to deinstitutionalize juvenile facilities, as was done in 1972 in Massachusetts and later in California. At the national level, this movement led to the proclamation of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA). This also led to the creation of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which became the focal point for reform of the American juvenile justice system. Its mandate was to conduct research, provide training and make grants to states and jurisdictions that wanted to voluntarily comply with the mandate of the OJJDP. However, as Krisberg (2006) notes, OJJDP’s history was not without difficulties during the Ford, Reagan and Bush (Sr.) years when its budget and mandate were significantly reduced. The arrival of President Clinton and the appointment of Janet Reno as US Attorney General brought a renaissance to federal juvenile justice programs. Krisberg (2006) suggests that President G.W. Bush has returned to the earlier practice of appointing a head of OJJDP with virtually no experience in juvenile justice.

Krisberg (2006) reported that there was a significant surge in serious violent youth crime between 1989 and 1993 (+ 30%) in the United States. This is similar to what was experienced in Canada and most of the western world during this period. His view is that “this led to the belief by some experts that a new wave of ‘super predators’ were reaching their teen years and would drive up the rates of juvenile crime for the foreseeable future; and, that conservative academics such as James Q. Wilson (1975) and John DiIulio (1995) led a small band of hysterical criminologists to predict the worst” (Krisberg, 2006:11). The US media and some politicians generated fear and literally created a moral panic over youth violence that led to tougher responses to youth crime in general and youth violent crime in particular. For example, Torbert et al. (1995) indicate that over forty states introduced tougher legislation and made it easier to transfer youth to adult courts. In some states, the minimum age for transfer in the case of murder was brought down to between ten and twelve years. In Florida, for example, prosecutors can choose to treat sixteen-year-olds charged with any felony as either juveniles or adults. They can also transfer youth as young as ten to adult court, although the criteria are more restrictive. Bishop and Decker (2006) also indicate that at the upper end of the age category, the majority of states use age seventeen (thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia), while ten states specify age sixteen, and three states use age fifteen as the maximum age of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.

While there has been a great deal of concern over youth crime and violence in the US, the much-feared arrival of the “super predator” has not materialized. As Krisberg (2006) shows, the rate of serious violent offences committed by young people declined significantly after 1993, well before tougher juvenile penalties were enacted. Bishop and Decker (2006) looked at more recent crime trends and observed that UCR data for the year 2000 indicates that an estimated 2.4 million juveniles were arrested that year; however, the vast majority were for minor offences. Only 4% of juvenile arrests (99,000) were for Violent Index Crimes, and of these, 1,200 were for murder. Twenty-two percent of juvenile arrests were for Property Index Crimes, over 70% of which involved larceny-theft.

In 2000, 58% of delinquency cases referred to intake resulted in a formal petition. Seventeen percent were closed without action, and the remaining 25% were handled informally. An additional (and unknown) number of cases were referred for prosecution in (adult) criminal court rather than juvenile court. In addition, of those referred to juvenile court, 1% of the cases were subsequently transferred to (adult) criminal court by the juvenile court judge through a process called judicial waiver. Bishop and Decker indicate that nationally, the trend is toward sentencing youth based on notions of punishment and accountability rather than rehabilitation. They further state that,

Significantly, the federal government has endorsed a policy of ‘graduated sanctions’ under which youth who have been adjudicated delinquent receive sanctions proportionate to the offence to hold them accountable for their actions and to prevent further law violations (2006:29).

Bishop and Decker (2006) also believe that if the first wave of change to the youth justice system in the United States was aimed at serious, chronic and violent offenders, the second is directed toward the other end of the spectrum; that is, toward children and youth who are at risk for delinquency. In the past ten to fifteen years, governmental support for delinquency prevention and early intervention policies and programs has grown. They further believe that although it is clear that the US has embraced retributive and deterrent objectives for convicted juvenile offenders to a degree not seen since the nineteenth century, there are some indications that they have not embraced this position single-mindedly. Restorative justice is gaining ground, and there is another movement afoot that may be even more important. Specifically, Bishop and Decker (2006:28) suggest that “in the midst of all the indications of a criminalized juvenile justice that we have discussed, there are signs of a revitalization of rehabilitation.” They go on to suggest that recent research has produced fairly consistent evidence that treatment-oriented programs, especially those that focus on interpersonal skills development and parent/family interventions, are considerably more effective than punishment-oriented ones.

Krisberg (2006) believes that the American juvenile court is experiencing new life as it enters the twenty-first century. It appears that three major strategies have had an impact on the direction of the US juvenile justice system. Two of these were spearheaded by the OJJDP, which sponsored new ideas that helped many communities reinvent the ideal of juvenile justice. The first is known as Balanced and Restorative Justice (BAR). It brings together traditional rehabilitation, the community and the victim. The second is the Comprehensive Strategy (CS). The CS envisioned a continuum of services, including prevention, early intervention, community-based programs for middle-level offenders, residential programs for the more serious offenders, and appropriate re-entry services. Krisberg (2006) suggests the third thrust was proposed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 1994. The goal of this initiative was to reduce the overuse of juvenile detention facilities and to redirect funding toward more pertinent services for at-risk youth.

A discussion about youth intervention strategies in the US is incomplete without an analysis of trends relating to crime prevention in recent years. Crime prevention programs and services in the US are locally driven in most instances. Moreover, as Snyder (2002:47-48) indicates, the role of the federal government in general is “(1) to develop, test, and promote model crime prevention programs; and, (2) to encourage the implementation of these programs by providing states and local jurisdictions with funds that may be spent on such programs” (2002:47-48). As a result, crime prevention efforts produced a full range of interventions, from the more rigid sentencing policies involving long-term incarceration, to prenatal and preschool programs aimed at families and children at risk. However, as noted above, some observers have begun to feel that the US is slowly outgrowing its need for crime control-related prevention strategies, while renewing its youth justice system with more comprehensive community approaches that include social development elements. The mood appears to be shifting toward non-traditional crime prevention approaches.

While some of the strategies being adopted in the US might appear to be out of the ordinary, a number of them offer the potential for significant change. For example, a recent collaborative study by Austin et al. (2007) suggests that the US should unlock America’s prisons and reduce the prison population (adult and juvenile) through such measures as reducing time served in prison, eliminating the use of prison for technical violations of parole or probation, reducing the length of parole and probation supervision periods, and by decriminalizing “victimless” crimes, particularly those related to drug use and abuse. It is their view these decarceration measures will generate cost savings and not jeopardize public safety. As well, the savings can be invested in more proactive front-end interventions such as supporting higher education for disadvantaged or at-risk students.

Another novel idea comes from the independent (non-federal government) Task Force on Community Preventive Services (Task Force, 2007) which produced the Guide to Community Preventive Service. The Task Force conducted a systematic review of published scientific evidence concerning the effectiveness of laws and policies that facilitate the transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system on either preventing or reducing violence: (1) among those youth who experience the adult criminal system; or (2) in the juvenile population as a whole. The Task Force stated,

On the basis of strong evidence that juveniles transferred to the adult justice system have greater rates of subsequent violence than juveniles retained in the juvenile justice system, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services concludes that strengthened transfer policies are harmful for those juveniles who experience transfer. Transferring juveniles to the adult justice system is counterproductive as a strategy for deterring subsequent violence” (2007:1).

Tonry (2007), who reviewed the study, concurred with its conclusions and states that “in the 1970s and earlier, most informed observers would have predicted what the Task Force found: transferring juveniles to adult court does harm to them, which diminishes their life chances, thereby increasing their likelihood of committing crimes in the future” (2007:53). The core finding of the report was that transfer increases future violence rates and that it was unlikely this applies only to young people under the age of eighteen.

A final example that represents a comprehensive crime prevention strategy comes from Boston, where a broad coalition of federal, state, and local government agencies, non-profit community service organizations, businesses, religious leaders, parents and residents developed a series of innovative public safety strategies to address the escalating number of juvenile homicides. More specifically, following the development of a strategic plan, two initiatives were developed. First, they identified some specific law enforcement strategies, such as Operation Ceasefire, Operation Night Light and the Boston Gun Project, which were designed to vigorously enforce a ceasefire among rival gangs in the community. Second, they implemented a variety of interventions and prevention programs, such as the Boston Community Centers’ Street-Workers Program, Youth Services Providers Network, Alternatives to Incarcerations, the Safe Neighborhood Initiative, the Summer of Opportunity, etc.

Each of these programs was designed to address the root causes of gang violence, including a lack of educational, recreational, social and employment opportunities. The overall approach taken in Boston is an example of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with youth gang violence. In the end, Jordan et al. (1998) found that they were able to significantly reduce the number of homicides (i.e., from 152 in 1990 to twenty-three in 1998) following the implementation of their approach.

Krisberg (2006:15) reviewed the evidence regarding youth violence and concluded that “despite regular examples of abusive practices that continue to plague American juvenile corrections facilities in many states, the juvenile court ideal continues to recover from the moral panic over ‘super predators.’” And Tonry and Doob (2004:16) point out that “much of the toughening in youth justice came after the apparent increase in youth crime levelled out.” In the end, we can only concur with what others have said and conclude that youth justice in America is an enigma. While in some cases it leads the way on progressive reforms and continues to create innovative ways of dealing with youth in conflict with the law, in other cases, it sounded the clarion call for more punitive and repressive practices. Ironically, only the US and Somalia have failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A Comparative Analysis of International Jurisdictions

The historical factors that influenced the introduction and development of youth justice in Canada have also had an impact on other western nations, such as those considered here. For example, the acknowledgement that children should be treated differently from adults led to the establishment of youth justice systems in the United States, Canada, and England and Wales at the turn of the twentieth century. And while the Scandinavian countries did not replicate this pattern exactly at that time, they did achieve essentially the same results administratively through the use of local Social Welfare Councils to deal with youth under fifteen years of age. The situation in France reflects a different approach from that found in the aforementioned common law countries, such that youth in conflict with the law were dealt with by judges who leaned either toward corrections or detention during the first part of the last century. This would change in 1945, however, to reflect an educative approach similar to that in the other countries.

The age of criminal responsibility was established as seven in Canada, the United States and England in the early 1900s, while it was fifteen in Scandinavia. In 1933, it was raised to eight in England, while in 1945, it was set at ten in France. Currently, the age of criminal responsibility is twelve in Canada, ten in England and France, and in the US, it varies from state to state, but seven years of age remains the official minimum. Their response was to change the minimum age at which a young person could be transferred to adult court. This is effectively ten years of age in a number of American states. The situation in Scandinavia has not changed since the turn of the last century, with the age of criminal responsibility remaining at fifteen.

The general pattern visible in the approaches of these four countries is similar to what happened in Canada, insofar as rehabilitation was in favour after World War II. However, rising crime rates in the 1960s and 1970s led to calls for more attention to crime control. This was a period when labelling theory and diversion programs appeared, as well as efforts at crime prevention to keep young people out of the formal youth justice system. The children’s rights movement also had an impact at this time. In many countries, this prompted a review of youth justice and the introduction of changes, including new legislation. This now seems to be part of a larger shift, such that Canada, England and France introduced new legislation containing major changes in the late 1990s or early 2000s. In the United States, given the decentralized state approach, the response at this time was to amend the provisions dealing with transfer to adult court. In Scandinavia, pressure to make the youth justice system tougher led to the introduction of new dispositions.

The shift in the 1990s and 2000s toward a law and order approach finds its base, in all five countries, in concerns over growing youth crime and violence. The role of the media was mentioned above, as was the politicization of youth justice. However, the role of race and ethnicity warrants specific attention. In France, the recent violence in the suburban “banlieues” reflects the association of youth crime and violence with the children of Algerian immigrants. In Scandinavia, youth violence has been closely associated with immigrant Muslim youth. The situation in England reflects concerns over ethnic and racial minority youth, while in the United States, Black and Latino gangs have been associated with much of the inner-city violence witnessed during this period.

The response to the public’s demands for something to be done about youth violence resulted in the introduction of harsher sentences and the facilitation of the transfer of young people to the adult court. Transfer provisions had been available, but were used sparingly in the past. The push toward a law and order approach in the four countries has seen custodial sentences increase, as well as transfers and waivers to adult court.

In the midst of this apparent shift toward a get tough approach, several important developments are worth mentioning. For example, while some harsher measures have been introduced in France, the powerful bureaucracy has resisted a more full-scale shift in this direction. As well, they continue to rely on the youth court judges to act in the best interests of the child, and they have enhanced their efforts toward community-based crime prevention. A similar situation exists in Scandinavia, where pressure for more punitive responses has been muted by the longstanding social welfare traditions in these countries. The situation in England is similar to that in Canada, such that the harsher measures for serious young offenders were coupled with an effort to prevent crime at the local level and develop community-based alternatives. Interestingly, recent developments in the United States have shown that they are becoming disillusioned with the outcomes of a get-tough approach and the use of custodial dispositions. There are indications that a more comprehensive, community-based approach is emerging, such that ongoing law enforcement efforts are occurring alongside initiatives that seek to provide education and employment opportunities for youth.


The concern over child welfare that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Canada and other western democracies tells only part of the story. This was also a period during which the public in these countries was growing increasingly concerned over the rising levels of youth crime and demanding that the authorities take action. In essence, balancing child welfare and crime control has been an ongoing challenge in the approach to youth justice taken in Canada and in the four international jurisdictions discussed in this paper. Our own Juvenile Delinquents Act, for example, incorporated elements of both child welfare and crime control, since it did not differentiate between neglected, dependent, and delinquent youth. All were deemed in need of guidance and protection. The particular consensus that developed around these two thrusts in each of the countries reviewed above reflected their unique social, political and legal cultures. Thus, in Scandinavia, child welfare was given priority over crime control through the use of social welfare councils to deal with children fifteen years of age and under. This approach was consistent with their broader cultural values. In contrast, in England and Wales, child welfare played a subordinate role to crime control, as the youth courts in that country operated in a way that resembled their adversarial adult criminal courts.

By the mid-twentieth century, concerns over child welfare and crime control re-emerged as forces at play globally that influenced both issues. On the child welfare side, the popularity of rehabilitative approaches saw these practices expand in many western nations. At the same time, the demographic changes that followed World War II resulted in a rapidly growing youth population, followed by rising rates of youth charged with crimes. Several additional factors were introduced into the discussion over youth justice at this juncture. For example, by the 1970s, the favour previously enjoyed by child welfare approaches began to wane and there was growing disillusionment with rehabilitation. At the same time, an emerging rights movement called into question the enormous power of youth courts and the lack of due process safeguards for youth. The swing toward child welfare witnessed after the war began to change as the provisions of rights moved youth courts increasing toward a legalistic and formalistic approach, which leaned toward a crime control orientation. The passage of the Young Offenders Act in Canada, with its right to retain counsel provision and other due process safeguards, attempted to strike a balance between the needs and the rights of a young person on the one hand and the protection of society on the other. However, once the balance began edging toward the protection of society, each successive set of amendments to this legislation moved it closer to the approach found in the adversarial adult system. Importantly, the result was that instead of juvenile delinquents, we had young offenders. Similar developments were observed in each of the four international jurisdictions, as public concerns over rising rates of youth charged with crimes provided support for approaches that favoured crime control over child welfare concerns.

By the middle 1990s, the push toward a harsher and more punitive approach was experienced in Canada, as it was in all of the countries we reviewed. In some jurisdictions, such as England and Canada, this pressure eventually led to new legislation, which was supposed to deal more severely with young people involved in serious offending. In the other countries, the pressure to move toward a law and order approach and tougher sentences was also visible. This represented an era during which youth justice became extremely politicized. While rates for youth charged with crime had been increasing (including violent youth crime) in the early 1990s, this trend began to abate in the latter half of the decade in all five countries. Public concern over youth crime, however, remained high. This was due in part to the role of the media and its treatment of tragic but isolated incidents of violent youth crime. The Bulger case was mentioned in this regard in England. The school shooting incidents in the United States and Canada represent similar examples in North America. Youth crime became an important political issue during this period, prompting the move toward youth justice approaches that emphasized the protection of the public over child welfare and children’s rights. In Canada, this resulted in the replacement of the relatively recent YOA with a new Act, the YCJA. In England and Wales, the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act fundamentally altered their approach to youth justice. While the jurisdictional division of powers in the United States makes a direct comparison with Canada and England difficult, it is clear that youth justice in that country took a sharp turn toward a law and order approach during this period as well. Nor did France and the Scandinavian countries escape this pressure. In France, the power of the bureaucracy was able to resist numerous attempts to move their system toward a crime control model, but in 2002, strong political pressures overcame some of the resistance. The social welfare tradition in Scandinavia has been able to soften demands for change, but there too, crime control concerns are being pressed.

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, there is a movement under way in many of the countries discussed in this paper toward a more comprehensive and integrated approach to youth in conflict with the law. In Canada, an unintended consequence of the YCJA and its focus on reserving custody for the most serious offenders has been the development of both more specialized resources for the small number of youth in this category, as well as many more community-based programs for those dealt with outside of the formal justice system. As we noted in our review of youth justice approaches in four Canadian provinces, the introduction of the YCJA has led to sharply decreased charging rate, court appearance and custodial dispositions. At the same time, all of the provinces are making greater use of front-end community-based alternatives. And while there are variations among the provinces in the way they are implementing the YCJA, they are much more similar in their approaches than they were before the introduction of this legislation.

We discovered that the youth coming into the system now represent, for the most part, those involved in the most serious behaviour. However, we still observed that a large number of youth not involved in violent crime are being sentenced to custody. We were informed, during our discussions with provincial officials, youth services providers and police officers, that young people in the system are faced with more serious issues and needs, including mental health and substance abuse problems, than those who had received custodial sentences in the past. This has resulted in the need for more planning, as well as a more integrated response by the various service providers involved. Importantly, the approach being taken in many of the provinces is holistic, and deals with the young person and not their criminal acts. This orientation has begun to influence the way that other youth justice services are delivered, such that the notion of a comprehensive continuum of services was mentioned by all of the provincial youth justice representatives we interviewed. Obviously, some jurisdictions are farther along in developing this continuum than others, since some are just beginning to develop a wide spectrum of community-based alternatives and a more socially-oriented intervention philosophy. Importantly, Québec is no longer alone in Canada in adopting this type of approach.

The experience in Canada is similar to what is happening in England and Wales. Their approach was also designed to deal more harshly with youth involved in serious, violent crime, while providing many more community-based alternatives for those involved in less-serious offending. This tendency is also apparent in several recent developments in the United States. This is especially the case with respect to the use of custody, since research has shown that it has not produced the types of outcomes that were expected. As a result, there is growing support in the United States for restricting the use of custody and adopting a broader approach. Current strategies being developed are moving the youth justice system in the United States away from a get-tough approach toward one that is more comprehensive and which focuses on community-based initiatives. This represents a move away from punishment toward a continuum of programs and services that attempt to assist young people in becoming contributing members of society.

The ongoing attempt to balance child welfare, youth rights, and crime control has resulted in a bifurcated system of youth justice in Canada and other western democracies. This has seen the creation, in some of these jurisdictions, of a dangerous class of young offenders. And, while an unintended consequence of this approach has been the emergence of a more comprehensive and holistic orientation, it has also served to reinforce the demonization of youth and the public’s perception that young people are dangerous. Paradoxically, the dual images of young people as victims and villains dominate public images of youth. When considering youth crime and society’s response to it, the artificial dichotomy of youth as victims or villains often misses the point that many young people are both. Equally important is that the responses to young people in conflict with the law are often cast in terms of the characteristics and behaviour of the young people involved, with limited attention being paid to the social contexts in which they live and the root causes of crime. Even in situations where the importance of the root causes of crime have been recognized, they receive only a tiny fraction of the attention and resources devoted to dealing with law enforcement and crime control. The bulk of these resources continue to be directed toward controlling these young people.

The evidence presented in this paper suggests that those who work closely with children and youth recognize that they must be understood in a holistic manner and in a way that attends to their social environments. At the same time, we have seen that changes in youth justice policy and practice can result in dramatic differences in the way a society responds to young people. Importantly, this power to alter policies and practices can be used either to create a more humane and respectful way of dealing with young people or one that is harsher and more punitive.


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The Youth Criminal Justice Act 2002 but proclaimed April 1, 2003.

The Young Offenders Act of 1992 and of 1995.

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Cases Cited:

In re Gault, 1967 387 U.S. 18L. Ed. 2d 527, 87 S. Ct. 1428.
Québec (Ministre de la Justice) v. Canada (Ministre de la Justice)
(2003), 10 C.R. (5th) 281 Québec Court of Appeal.
R.v.C.D. : R.v.C.D.K. (2005) 3 S.C.R. 668 (2005) S.C.J. No. 79 2005 SCC 78
File Nos.:30254, 30314 Supreme Court of Canada
Heard: April 14, 2005
Judgement: December 16, 2005.

Her Majesty the Queen v. D.B.(A Young Offender Respondent) Court of Appeal for Ontario
Docket: C42719 and C42923
Heard: November 2 and 3, 2005
Judgement: 2006-03-24.

R. v. B.W.P.
Her Majesty The Queen Appellant v. B.W.P., Respondent, and Attorney General of Ontario,
Attorney General of Alberta, Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law, Youth
Criminal Defence Office, Interveners
(2006) 1 S.C.R. 941 (2006) S.C.J. No. 27 and 2006 SCC 27
File No.: 30514, 30512
Heard: November 10, 2005
Judgement: June 22, 2006.

Appendix 1:


Years and
Youth, Males
Youth, Females
Not Charged
Youth Population
Canada 66,353 19,594 117,513 N/A
Québec 9,533 1,388 16,227 N/A
Ontario 25,932 7,943 37,165 N/A
Alberta 8,348 2,684 15,376 N/A
BC 5,477 1,818 17,237 N/A
Canada 66,792 18,933 111,591 2,566,450
Québec 9,365 1,163 17,688 575,350
Ontario 26,204 8,022 35,666 1,006,334
Alberta 8,871 2,594 13,897 274,281
BC 5,376 1,767 17,323 324,433
Canada 69,298 20,027 117,446 2,551,176
Québec 9,098 1,329 19,394 567,131
Ontario 25,938 8,005 37,175 996,490
Alberta 9,265 2,928 15,468 274,311
BC 6,141 1,866 18,390 323,725
Canada 72,798 20,799 116,144 2,536,221
Québec 9,629 1,461 19,593 557,702
Ontario 25,842 8,053 33,084 987,035
Alberta 10,754 2,972 16,278 274,581
BC 6,945 2,242 20,573 323,946
Canada 85,703 27,416 87,307 2,519,316
Québec 10,352 1,815 14,136 547,986
Ontario 33,052 11,384 19,292 976,743
Alberta 11,923 3,675 17,717 274,154
BC 8,690 2,978 19,631 325,358
Canada 89,024 27,094 86,0440 2,494,061
Québec 10,753 1,677 15,262 541,972
Ontario 34,711 11,198 18,108 958,896
Alberta 11,746 3,461 14,201 270,515
BC 9,286 3,158 20,284 326,042
Canada 87,807 25,788 78,704 2,475,212
Québec 10,713 1,578 14,616 541,844
Ontario 33,907 10,956 18,253 942,308
Alberta 11,744 3,226 11,964 267,206
BC 9,704 3,295 18,592 324,380
Table 1. Youth Crime Statistics 2000–2006, All Incidents*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Years and
Youth, Males
Youth, Females
Not Charged
Youth Population
Canada 56,739 17,202 103,924 N/A
Québec 7,914 1,185 12,789 N/A
Ontario 21,673 6,858 32,085 N/A
Alberta 7,314 2,449 14,512 N/A
BC 4,598 1,495 14,829 N/A
Canada 57,977 16,618 97,452 2,566,450
Québec 7,780 978 13,779 575,350
Ontario 22,109 6,881 30,509 1,006,334
Alberta 7,949 2,395 13,207 274,281
BC 4,573 1,456 14,607 324,433
Canada 59,873 17,613 102,112 2,551,176
Québec 7,466 1,133 15,052 567,131
Ontario 21,771 6,805 31,663 996,490
Alberta 8,322 2,686 14,631 274,311
BC 5,134 1,585 15,470 323,725
Canada 64,460 18,603 102,999 2,536,221
Québec 8,026 1,265 15,612 557,702
Ontario 22,734 7,115 23,384 987,035
Alberta 9,860 2,759 15,489 274,581
BC 5,845 1,889 17,562 323,946
Canada 74,253 24,428 76,885 2,519,316
Québec 8,397 1,574 11,233 547,986
Ontario 27,980 10,100 16,531 976,743
Alberta 10,749 3,380 13,927 274,154
BC 7,423 2,435 16,742 325,358
Canada 78,024 24,666 75,898 2,494,061
Québec 8,716 1,449 12,235 541,972
Ontario 30,115 10,283 15,656 958,896
Alberta 10,596 3,148 13,419 270,515
BC 7,954 2,740 17,339 326,042
Canada 77,562 23,298 70,370 2,475,212
Québec 8,775 1,325 11,946 541,844
Ontario 29,002 10,094 16,039 942,308
Alberta 10,689 2,938 11,424 267,206
BC 8,267 2,797 16437 324,380
Table 2. Youth Crime Statistics 2000–2006, Total Criminal Code*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Years and
Youth, Males
Youth, Females
Not Charged
Youth Population
Canada 15,261 5,239 18,972 N/A
Québec 2,600 547 3,307 N/A
Ontario 6,348 2,156 6,131 N/A
Alberta 1,727 612 2,084 N/A
BC 1,500 472 2,102 N/A
Canada 15,195 5,145 17,839 2,566,450
Québec 2,515 412 3,431 575,350
Ontario 6,575 2,237 5,902 1,006,334
Alberta 1,718 612 1,804 274,281
BC 1,364 449 2,112 324,433
Canada 14,653 5,223 18,336 2,551,176
Québec 2,405 450 3,632 567,131
Ontario 6,203 2,176 6,106 996,490
Alberta 1,676 608 1,902 274,311
BC 1,327 497 2,069 323,725
Canada 15,156 5,278 18,215 2,536,221
Québec 2,262 464 3,651 557,702
Ontario 6,405 2,168 5,353 987,035
Alberta 1,766 623 2,230 274,581
BC 1,499 564 2,450 323,946
Canada 16,961 6,192 13,752 2,519,316
Québec 2,396 575 2,813 547,986
Ontario 7,223 2,660 3,319 976,743
Alberta 2,052 732 1,835 274,154
BC 1,976 660 2,335 325,358
Canada 17,524 6,095 13,720 2,494,061
Québec 2,515 486 2,779 541,972
Ontario 7,608 2,512 3,405 958,896
Alberta 2,003 741 1,856 270,515
BC 1,939 746 2,466 326,042
Canada 16,919 5,736 13,606 2,475,212
Québec 2,399 477 2,834 541,844
Ontario 7,449 2,471 4,017 942,308
Alberta 1,960 619 1,602 267,206
BC 1,870 715 2,523 324,380
Table 3. Youth Crime Statistics 2000–2006, Total Crimes of Violence*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Years and
Youth, Males
Youth, Females
Not Charged
Youth Population
Canada 19,747 6,033 39,681 N/A
Québec 2,867 348 5,576 N/A
Ontario 7,060 2,367 15,560 N/A
Alberta 2,766 1,092 4,647 N/A
BC 1,514 620 4,961 N/A
Canada 21,477 5,753 39,868 2,566,450
Québec 2,926 350 6,322 575,350
Ontario 7,429 2,279 14,630 1,006,334
Alberta 3,154 1,014 5,124 274,281
BC 1,702 605 5,303 324,433
Canada 23,921 6,214 44,147 2,551,176
Québec 2,928 427 7,000 567,131
Ontario 7,763 2,292 15,244 996,490
Alberta 3,432 1,093 6,478 274,311
BC 2,219 713 5,774 323,725
Canada 26,996 7,194 45,901 2,536,221
Québec 3,348 538 7,088 557,702
Ontario 8,451 2,632 15,367 987,035
Alberta 4,470 1,230 6,910 274,581
BC 2,602 887 6,748 323,946
Canada 32,238 10,939 33,062 2,519,316
Québec 3,638 712 5,096 547,986
Ontario 11,217 4,559 8,691 976,743
Alberta 5,050 1,601 6,099 274,154
BC 3,390 1,274 6,091 325,358
Canada 34,221 10,954 32,166 2,494,061
Québec 3,827 702 5,882 541,972
Ontario 12,187 4,580 7,605 958,896
Alberta 4,813 1,384 5,851 270,515
BC 3,799 1,473 6,291 326,042
Canada 35,525 10,736 30,717 2,475,212
Québec 3,988 642 5,557 541,844
Ontario 12,293 4,611 7,274 942,308
Alberta 5,190 1,398 5,756 267,206
BC 4,204 1,565 6,014 324,380
Table 4. Youth Crime Statistics 2000–2006, Total Property Crimes*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Provinces/Years Total Crimes of
Total Assaults #1 % of Assaults / Total
Crimes of Violence
2006 20,500 8,964 44
2005 20,340 8,880 44
2004 19,876 9,010 45
2003 20,434 9,273 45
2002 23,153 11,698 51
2001 23,619 11,811 50
2000 22,655 11,629 51
2006 3,147 1,355 43
2005 2,927 1,184 40
2004 2,855 1,235 43
2003 2,726 1,184 43
2002 2,971 1,443 49
2001 3,001 1,431 48
2000 2,876 1,492 52
2006 8,503 3,696 43
2005 8,812 3,799 43
2004 8,379 3,760 45
2003 8,573 3,886 45
2002 9,883 5,053 51
2001 10,120 5,173 52
2000 9,920 5,151 52
2006 2,339 1,138 49
2005 2,330 1,078 46
2004 2,284 1,103 48
2003 2,389 1,064 45
2002 2,784 1,390 50
2001 2,744 1,395 51
2000 2,579 1,223 47
2006 1,972 813 41
2005 1,813 821 45
2004 1,824 819 45
2003 2,063 990 48
2002 2,636 1,360 52
2001 2,685 1,372 51
2000 2,295 1,364 59
Table 5. Youth Crime Statistics 2000–2006: Assaults 1,* Number of Youth Charged**

* The CCJS uses the term Assaults 1 to describe minor assaults. For the purpose of our study, we used the term minor assaults when referring to Assaults 1.

**Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Provinces/Years Number of homicide victims Homicide
rates per
100,000 population
Number of adult males charged Number of adult females charged Number of youth, males charged Number of youth, females charged
2006 605 1.85 367 59 71 12
2005 663 2.05 476 50 62 10
2004 624 1.95 451 51 39 5
2003 549 1.73 388 49 47 9
2002 582 1.86 396 47 33 9
2001 553 1.78 366 57 27 5
2000 546 1.78 352 47 38 5
2006 93 1.22 46 8 2 1
2005 100 1.32 59 10 13 0
2004 111 1.47 80 7 3 0
2003 99 1.32 61 6 2 2
2002 118 1.58 80 7 1 0
2001 140 1.89 82 9 2 0
2000 150 2.04 78 8 5 0
2006 196 1.54 117 11 20 3
2005 219 1.74 189 9 12 3
2004 187 1.51 152 12 15 1
2003 178 1.45 144 14 21 4
2002 178 1.47 133 14 11 3
2001 170 1.43 115 18 10 1
2000 156 1.34 100 13 11 1
2006 96 2.84 57 12 22 2
2005 108 3.30 85 13 9 3
2004 86 2.68 52 7 5 1
2003 64 2.02 42 6 4 0
2002 70 2.25 43 6 5 0
2001 70 2.29 42 11 5 2
2000 59 1.96 43 8 6 0
British Columbia
2006 108 2.51 64 10 12 0
2005 101 2.37 69 7 6 0
2004 113 2.69 57 7 5 2
2003 94 2.26 50 7 4 0
2002 126 3.06 80 10 9 2
2001 84 2.06 51 6 4 0
2000 85 2.10 52 6 3 1
Table 6. Crime Statistics 2000–2006: Homicides*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Actual incidents Adults charged Youth charged
Ottawa 16 12 10 10 8 3 8 8 16 13 15 9 5 6 2 0 0 1 1 0 1
Kingston 2 5 0 5 3 3 - 1 6 0 3 2 5 - 0 0 0 0 1 0 -
Toronto 99 104 94 95 90 78 81 60 86 65 75 65 50 50 10 8 10 17 9 3 4
Hamilton 7 11 9 9 13 13 10 8 8 7 5 17 19 7 2 1 0 2 0 1 1
St. Catharines 4 14 8 6 8 5 4 5 17 8 8 4 6 4 0 1 0 0 0 3 1
Kitchener 2 7 6 1 3 6 8 1 7 4 1 2 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0
London 5 14 5 8 4 6 2 3 13 7 7 4 7 3 0 0 1 2 1 0 1
Windsor 5 5 4 9 7 3 6 7 4 8 6 6 3 5 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Greater Sudbury 2 2 0 1 2 5 1 2 2 0 1 1 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Montréal 52 48 63 56 66 78 75 25 29 42 36 42 46 43 2 7 3 2 0 0 1
Calgary 26 25 20 11 15 15 16 26 17 16 7 11 10 18 1 0 3 0 1 2 2
Edmonton 39 44 34 22 27 25 19 18 42 14 16 19 21 15 11 8 1 1 1 2 2
Vancouver 55 62 57 45 69 43 42 28 37 31 26 43 23 22 7 5 2 3 7 3 3
Table 7. Homicide Statistics 2000–2006 -Ontario & Selected Census Metropolitan Areas*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Province/Years Total Cases Total Guilty Cases Total Stayed/
2005/2006 56,271 34,626 (62%) 20,487
2004/2005 57,588 35,865 (62%) 20,499
2003/2004 64,002 39,323 (61%) 23,539
2002/2003 76,153 49,169 (65%) 25,736
2001/2002 77,828 51,260 (66%) 25,183
2000/2001 77,663 52,272 (67%) 23,869
2005/2006 6,930 4,936 (71%) 1,580
2004/2005 7,027 5,082 (72%) 1,440
2003/2004 7,256 5,330 (73%) 1,088
2002/2003 7,689 5,824 (76%) 1,334
2001/2002 8,787 6,853 (78%) 1,385
2000/2001 8,365 6,659 (80%) 1,156
2005/2006 25,084 14,418 (57%) 10,393
2004/2005 25,943 15,314 (59%) 10,336
2003/2004 28,306 16,407 (58%) 11,769
2002/2003 35,710 21,234 (60%) 14,179
2001/2002 34,828 21,017 (60%) 13,569
2000/2001 34,507 21,458 (62%) 12,851
2005/2006 7,919 4,502 (56%) 3,233
2004/2005 8,094 4,587 (57%) 3,328
2003/2004 10,121 5,869 (58%) 4,025
2002/2003 10,439 6,803 (65%) 3,464
2001/2002 10,604 7,225 (68%) 3,207
2000/2001 10,759 7,306 (68%) 3,279
2005/2006 4,111 2,923 (71%) 1,041
2004/2005 4,269 3,070 (72%) 1,100
2003/2004 4,995 3,483 (70%) 1,371
2002/2003 6,473 4,532 (70%) 1,787
2001/2002 7,314 5,163 (71%) 1,910
2000/2001 7,755 5,906 (75%) 1,586
Table 8. Youth Court Decisions 2000–2006 -Total Cases, Total Guilty, Total Stayed/Withdrawn/Dismissed*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Provinces/Years Custody Deferred Custody & Supervision Intensive Support & Supervision Non-Residence Program Probation
2005/2006 6,355 1,197 348 194 20,822
2004/2005 7,578 1,065 341 143 22,380
2003/2004 8,683 550 282 237 24,847
2002/2003 13,246 0 0 0 34,440
2001/2002 13,831 0 0 0 33,594
2000/2001 15,005 0 0 0 33,779
2005/2006 559 110 23 30 3,123
2004/2005 777 0 0 0 3,603
2003/2004 845 0 0 0 3,692
2002/2003 1,236 0 0 0 4,310
2001/2002 1,495 0 0 0 5,162
2000/2001 1,543 0 0 0 4,893
2005/2006 3,446 549 12 1 10,945
2004/2005 4,059 516 0 0 11,016
2003/2004 4,589 0 0 0 12,233
2002/2003 6,013 0 0 0 17,068
2001/2002 6,221 0 0 0 14,418
2000/2001 6,833 0 0 0 14,452
2005/2006 554 144 14 163 2,030
2004/2005 600 190 12 143 1,908
2003/2004 752 239 24 237 2,342
2002/2003 1,313 0 0 0 3,103
2001/2002 1,433 0 0 0 3,215
2000/2001 1,441 0 0 0 3,388
2005/2006 622 131 298 0 1,358
2004/2005 660 174 328 0 1,529
2003/2004 767 146 255 0 1,901
2002/2003 1,429 0 0 0 3,177
2001/2002 1,532 0 0 0 3,599
2000/2001 1,840 0 0 0 4,041
Table 9. Youth Court Decisons 2000–2006, Most Serious Sentence*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Fiscal Year 2000/01 2001/02 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05 2005/06
count 14923 13708 13113 8631 7509 6093
mean 71 71 70 68 78 70
median 30 30 30 33 40 33
count 1543 1495 1236 845 777 553
mean 108 107 114 132 147 110
median 60 60 60 90 90 60
count 6833 6221 6013 4589 4042 3430
mean 57 57 60 51 65 60
median 30 30 30 30 30 30
count 1441 1433 1313 752 600 554
mean 75 67 68 65 63 77
median 30 30 30 28 30 30
count 1760 1410 1297 718 610 559
mean 56 49 49 45 68 57
median 14 20 14 21 30 25
Table 10. Youth Court Sentences 2000–2006, Custodial Days*

*Adapted from Statistics Canada, Centre for Justice Statistics database.

Appendix 2:

Contact List

Berday, Arlene – Ontario
Brault, Pierre – Québec
Clapham, Ward – British Columbia
Dagenais, Guy – Ontario
Dompierre, Joanne – Justice Canada
Elliott, Dale – Ontario
Faris, Lynn – Ontario
Houldsworth, Mark – Ontario
Ionescu, Ana-Marina – Québec
Kimmitt, Anne – British Columbia
Laporte, Clément – Québec
Latimer, Catherine – Justice Canada
Marceau, Bruno – Justice Canada
Mulder, Suzanne – Justice Canada
Neff, Kathy – Ontario
Perreault, Claude – Québec
Pical, Daniel – France
Robinson, Stephanie – Justice Canada
Rodziewicz, Paulette – Alberta
Thomas, Jennifer – CCJS
Wheeler, Paul – Ontario
Wright, Gerry – Alberta

1 We would like to thank Ms. Jennifer Thomas for providing us with police and court data derived from the CCJS’s core databases.

2 The Juristat (no. 85-002-XIE, Vol. 27, no. 8) publication entitled “Homicide in Canada, 2006” indicates that eighty-four youth were charged with homicide in 2006. However, the CCJS database indicates a total of eighty-three youth. Because the database is corrected on a regular basis, it is preferable to utilize its figures rather than those published.

3 As part of the General Social Survey (GSS) program, Statistics Canada conducted a victimization survey. Similar surveys were conducted in 1999, 1993 and 1988. For the 2004 survey, interviews were conducted by telephone with about 24,000 people, aged fifteen years and older, living in the ten provinces.

4 The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics informed us that cases stayed or withdrawn are often indicative of charges set aside pending completion of extrajudicial sanctions/alternative measures.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews