Understanding Sentencing under the Youth Criminal Justice Act


  • Julian V. Roberts
  • Nicholas Bala




The authors provide an analysis of the complicated sentencing regime found in Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) and compare the new Act to the previous Young Offenders Act In comparison to the provisions of the Criminal Code that govern adult sentencing, the YCJA makes no reference to deterrence, has more focus on rehabilitation, and calls for lesser penalties than for adults. The authors point out that proportionality is a key principle for both sentencing youths and adults, but the aggravating elements enumerated in the YCJA are not the same as those in the Criminal Code. They further note that situations in which youth custody may be used are limited and that judges are directed to treat custody as a last resort and consider all alternatives. The authors conclude that the YCJA facilitates a more uniform treatment of young offenders, though the courts will continue to exercise considerable discretion. While it is clear that the use of custodial sanctions will decrease even without more community resources, in some places the coming into force of the new Act was accompanied by increased community resources which will also affect sentencing practices. The article concludes with a survey of some of the first cases decided under the YCJA, which reveal that custodial sanctions were avoided and rehabilitative principles played a major role in sentencing decisions.