The Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is based on the belief that criminal law should give youth offenders an opportunity to become contributing members of the community. This approach values parental involvement in dealing with a youth’s actions and community assistance through programs and services aimed at re-establishing the youth in the community.

The YCJA was created to:

  • Prevent young people from committing crimes by looking at the reasons they commit crimes and finding ways to help them change this behaviour
  • Rehabilitate young people and help them back into society so they become law abiding members of the community
  • Protect the public long-term by ensuring young people breaking the law receive meaningful consequences for their actions

Turning 18

In British Columbia, youth accused of committing a crime while they were between 12 and 17 are dealt with under the YCJA. Even if the youth turns 18 before their trial or sentencing, they will still be tried or may be sentenced as a youth under the YCJA. When a crime is very serious or the judge decides a youth needs to be in an adult correctional facility, a judge may decide to sentence the youth as an adult.

Children Under 12

Children under 12 cannot be charged or tried for a criminal offence under the Criminal Code or YCJA. When a child under the age of 12 is caught doing something illegal, the police will likely inform their parents, who can then get help from the child’s school or a community organization. In more serious situations, the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s child protection services may become involved.