Youth Criminal Law

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there special laws for young persons who commit an offence?

    The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) applies to violations of federal laws, including the Criminal Code, by young persons between the ages of 12 and 17. The YCJA recognizes that young persons should be responsible for their actions, yet they should not be held accountable in the same way or face the same consequences as adults in all circumstances. You can find the YCJA at

  • Is there a special court for young persons accused of an offence?

    Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a youth justice court is the only court that can deal with an offence committed by a young person. If the young person is found guilty, the court may impose either a youth sentence or an adult sentence.

  • What is an extrajudicial measure?

    An extrajudicial measure is a means used to deal with a young person alleged to have committed an offence, other than through the court system.

  • Can the police use an extrajudicial measure?

    Yes. Examples of measures police may consider include:

    • Warning the young person (informal warning)
    • Administering a caution (formal warning)
    • With the young person’s consent, referring the young person to an appropriate organization in the community, such as a counselling, mental health, or child welfare agency.
  • Why are the names of youth accused not published?

    Because this is the general rule under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. A young person who is accused of a crime cannot have their name published.

  • Under what circumstances can a young person who is accused, or who has been convicted, of a crime be identified?

    A young person can be identified when:

      • They have received an adult sentence,
      • In exceptional circumstances, when a young person has received a youth sentence for a presumptive offence,
      • The information is used in the administration of justice,
      • The young person is at large and dangerous and identifying information is necessary to apprehend the individual,
      • The young person authorizes disclosure of information after becoming an adult.
  • Why are the names of victims of young accused persons not published?

    Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, publication of identifying information related to a child or a young person who is a witness or victim in connection with an offence committed by a young person is prohibited. A victim or witness in such a case can authorize disclosure of their information. If they are under 18 years old, their parents must consent to the disclosure. Parents of a deceased child or young person who was a victim or witness to an offence committed by a young person may publish information identifying their child.

  • What options does the crown attorney have when dealing with an accused young person?

    Once the matter has been referred to the crown attorney they may:

      • Decide not to proceed with the matter,
      • Administer a caution to the young person,
      • Proceed with an extrajudicial sanction, or
      • Lay a charge against the young person.
  • Is a young person held in custody separately from adults prior to trial?

    In most cases accused young people are held separately from adults. The only exceptions to this are if the young person’s safety or the safety of others would be jeopardized by holding the youth in a youth detention facility, or if there is no suitable place within a reasonable distance.

  • Can a responsible adult agree to supervise the young accused instead of them remaining in custody?

    If a young person is facing the prospect of being held in custody prior to trial, the court has an obligation to inquire whether there is a responsible person available to care for the young person, make sure they attend court, and make sure that they comply with court conditions. The responsible person must agree to these conditions in writing and the young person must also agree.

  • Can a young person enter a plea of guilty or not guilty without a lawyer?

    A judge can only accept a plea if they are confident that the young person fully understands the consequences of the plea. For this reason, if a young person does not have a lawyer, they will be encouraged to obtain a lawyer at virtually every stage of the court proceedings. If a young person is denied Legal Aid coverage and cannot afford a lawyer on their own, the judge can appoint a lawyer to act for them. This is a special safeguard used only for youths—there is no way for a court to appoint a lawyer for an adult who has been denied Legal Aid.

    A judge may still accept a plea from a youth who has decided to not obtain a lawyer—however, extra care must be taken to ensure the young person fully understands the implications of the plea.

  • What happens if an accused young person does not agree with the advice given by the lawyer hired by their parents?

    The young person has a right to counsel who will represent their best interests and follow their instructions. Counsel is to provide advice based on their experience and knowledge, but the young person’s instructions must be followed. If a judge decides that the interests of the parent and the young person conflict, or that the best interests of the young person are not being properly served, the judge shall ensure that the young person is represented by counsel independent of that parent.

  • Is an adult sentence still possible for such offences as manslaughter and attempted murder?

    Yes. However, the onus is on the Crown Attorney to show why an adult sentence should be imposed.

  • Are there certain offences where a youth is presumed to get an adult sentence?

    Not anymore. On May 16, 2008, in the case of R v D.B. the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the provisions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act that listed presumptive offences for which an adult sentence would be imposed where the young person is 14 years of age or older. You can read the case here:

  • Who is allowed to keep youth records?

    The Youth Criminal Justice Act allows youth records to be kept by the following:

      • Youth justice and other courts,
      • Review boards,
      • Police forces,
      • Government departments and agencies (for specific purposes only),
      • Organizations administering or participating in an extrajudicial measure or in the administration of a sentence.
  • What type of records are kept?

    The following are examples of records that might be kept:

      • Medical, psychological, or psychiatric reports prepared in relation to the proceedings;
      • Pre-sentence reports;
      • Placement hearing reports;
      • Youth justice court’s reasons for sentencing;
      • Weapon prohibition reports;
      • Progress reports, police records, etc.
  • Who can have access to a youth record?

    A young person, the young person’s lawyer, and the Attorney General can all access the youth record.

    Parents of the young person and adults assisting the young person have access to the record during the proceedings and youth sentence. Peace officers have access to youth court records for case administration and law enforcement purposes. A judge, court, or review board may access the youth record for related proceedings or re-offences by the young person.

  • Can a potential employer ask me if I have a youth record?

    Yes. They may also request that a record check be done. Once a young person obtains a copy of the record, they may provide it to anyone, including a potential employer.

    When a youth record is closed, the young person may inform employers that they do not have a record and that they have not been charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence.

  • Can a potential employer access my youth record?

    Employers are not entitled to access a youth record on their own (except when the government is the employer).

  • Can a criminal record I obtained as a youth be disclosed?

    The Youth Criminal Justice Act provides for non-disclosure of records after a certain period of time in order to prevent individuals from being haunted by their previous infractions as youths. For example, when the offence is indictable, the records are subject to non-disclosure five years after the completion of the sentence. For a summary conviction offence, the access period is three years. The record is accessible if another offence is committed during the access period.

  • When is a youth record closed?

    A youth record for a summary conviction offence may be accessed for up to three years after the youth sentence is complete. The access period is five years for an indictable offence. After those time periods, the record is closed unless a further offence is committed during the access period for the original offence.