Youth Justice

In Canada, anyone between 12 and 17 years old is considered a youth and may go through the youth justice system if they commit a crime or are accused of committing a crime.

What to Expect

Understanding how the justice systems works will help you make decisions about how to deal with your situation. Learn about what to expect from the youth justice process:

Get Legal Advice

This information is provided as a general reference - it is not intended as legal advice. It’s very serious if you are accused or found guilty of committing a crime, so you should talk to a lawyer about what to do.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is the federal law about the youth criminal justice system – it provides responsibilities for young people who commit a crime and their parents.

Holds youth responsible: Under the act, youth who commit a crime should:

  • Be held responsible for their actions
  • Receive fair and proportionate treatment for the crime they have committed

Measures taken against a youth who has committed a crime should:

  • Emphasize that society’s values must be respected
  • Refer youth to programs and services that address actions and situations that lead to offending behaviour
  • Encourage the youth to repair the damage or harm to the victim and community
  • Be meaningful to the youth and involve parents, extended family members or, where appropriate, other community agencies in the youth’s rehabilitation and return to society
  • Respect and be sensitive to cultural, ethnic, gender and language differences between people and respond to the needs of Aboriginal youth and those with special requirements

Outlines the role of parents: Parents have an important role -- they need to be informed about the justice process and are encouraged to support their child in addressing their offending behaviour.

Under the act, a parent includes any person “who is under a legal duty to provide for the youth or any person who has, in fact or in law, the custody or control of a young person.”

Some of special rights and responsibilities for parents include:

  • A youth has the right to consult with their parent(s) when arrested by police and at any other stage of formal legal proceedings
  • Parents, extended family and the youth’s community will be given every reasonable opportunity to be involved with and assist in responding to the youth’s needs
  • Parents are able to speak to youth court judges, Crown, police officers, youth probation officers and youth custody staff
  • Parents will be told their child is in trouble with the law and they will be asked for their views and opinions
  • Parents have the right to attend court and to speak at certain proceedings, such as sentencing hearings
  • Parents have the right to see legal information or documents about their children during the proceedings or while the youth is serving a sentence
  • A youth has a right to a lawyer independent of his or her parents and that lawyer must take instruction from the youth, not the parent

Parents cannot be held responsible for crimes committed by their children. However, under the Parental Liability Act, a parent can be held responsible for losses or damage to property (up to $10,000) caused by their child’s criminal actions. Parents are not held responsible for these costs if they can show the court that they exercised reasonable supervision over the youth and made reasonable efforts to prevent or discourage them from committing crimes.