The Evolution of Juvenile Justice in Canada

4. The Act of 2003

On 11 March 1999, the government introduced Bill C-68, the first version of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The bill was reintroduced in October 1999 as Bill C-3. An election call in late 2000 prevented Parliament from passing the Bill. Consequently, the federal government reintroduced before Parliament on 5 February 2001 Bill C-7, the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Bill C-7 contained over 160 amendments in response to suggestions and concerns raised in relation to Bill C-3. The Bill was adopted and received Royal Assent on 19 February 2002. Following the time allotted to the provinces to prepare for its implementation, the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into force on 1 April 2003, replacing the Young Offenders Act.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act strives to remedy the perceived problems of the Young Offenders Act by, among other things, using the formal justice system more selectively, reducing the overreliance on incarceration and increasing reintegration of young people into the community following custody. The Youth Criminal Justice Act contains a Declaration of Principle applicable to the entire Act, which reflects Canada's new policy respecting young persons. The Act further aims to achieve its objectives by stating principles that are specific to certain provisions of the Act. For example, there is a substantial difference between the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Young Offenders Act on the issue of youth sentencing. The Young Offenders Act principally relied upon its general Declaration of Principle to guide all provisions of that Act, including sentencing. The Youth Criminal Justice Act explicitly states the purpose, principles and factors to be considered when youth courts sentence young persons. In addition to creating a number of new sentencing options, the Youth Criminal Justice Act replaced transfers to adult court with a system of adult sentencing. Though all trials will take place in a youth court under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, for certain offences and in certain circumstances a youth may receive an adult sentence. The Youth Criminal Justice Act also outlines in separate sections the purposes, principles and factors to be used in sentencing, custody and supervision, and extrajudicial measures.

As a part of Canada's A Strategy for the Renewal of Youth Justice, the Youth Criminal Justice Act seeks to provide the legislative direction needed to achieve a more effective and fairer youth justice regime. Along with its non-legislative elements such as federal funding for programs, crime prevention and education, the Youth Criminal Justice Act should contribute to the improvement of the youth justice system.

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