Young Offenders Defence Lawyers in Toronto

If a young person breaks a law, they may receive a warning or caution from the police, be referred to a community program, or charged and sent to a youth justice court. A young offender is an individual between the ages of 12 and 17, who commits an offence under the Criminal Code or Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Because this individual is under the legal age, they may be treated as a ‘young offender’ before the law, rather than as an adult. Young offenders and their cases are dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).

Young offenders are regulated by the Youth Criminal  Justice Act. Among other things, the Act lays out the applicable extrajudicial measures, the organization of the Youth Criminal Justice System, judicial measures that the youth justice court may take and provisions for sentencing, custody and supervision.

If your child is under 18, the police are required to contact you if they are arrested. Upon receiving the call, it is important to call a lawyer as soon as possible. Where the youth has been detained at a police station, it is important for you, along with a lawyer, to be present during police questioning. \

Having a lawyer present may help ensure that the youth does not make any incriminating statements that may be detrimental to them, allow you and your child to better understand the legal process before them, and to ensure that your child’s rights are being respected and protected.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act recognizes that young offenders have different needs and require different forms of protection and rehabilitation from adults. The goal of the youth justice system is to ensure that young offenders are able to become more responsible for their actions, make better choices going forward, receive an education or get a job, and learn important life skills. Thus, the focus for young offenders is on rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

Having a complete understanding of the Elements of the Criminal Offence, Your Rights and the Consequences associated with a Criminal Record is necessary before any legal decisions are made.

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Legal Information

Frequently Asked Questions

Will All Young Offenders be Charged?
What Happens if the Police Lay Charges?
When Will Young Offenders be Held in Detention?
What if the Young Offender has Mental Health Needs?
What Happens if a Young Offender has been Found Guilty of an Offence?
What is Community-Based Sentencing?
What is Custodial Sentencing?
What Rights do Young Offenders Have?
When Will Extrajudicial Measures Not be Available?
What Other Sentencing Measures May a Young Offender Face?
Can Parents Visit the Young Offender in Custody?

Additional Resources

Assaulting a Peace Officer
Sexual Assault Law in Canada
Consequences of a Criminal Record
Domestic Abuse
First Offenders
Immigration Consequences
Keeping Charges Private
Travel & US Waivers
Vulnerable Sector Screening
Elements of a Crime
Your Rights

Will All Young Offenders be Charged?

Typically, the crimes of young offenders are dealt with out of court, through Pre-Charge Extrajudicial Measures. This means that instead of the police laying charges on the young offender, the young offender will be directed to a community program where they may be able to:

• Take responsibility for their actions
• Be encouraged to acknowledge the harm they have caused, and repair the harm dealt to the victim or the community
• Encourage family members to become involved in rehabilitation
• Receive help for dealing with drug or alcohol abuse
• Learn ways to stay away from trouble
• Volunteer in the community
• Fix any damaged property
• Write an apology

What Happens if the Police Lay Charges?

If the police lay charges, the young offender could be released on the condition that they must return to court at a later date, released and referred by the Crown Attorney to a community program (Post-Charge Extrajudicial Sanction), or held in a detention centre until the case is heard in a youth justice court.

When Will Young Offenders be Held in Detention?

Young offenders may be held in detention centres if the court is of the opinion that is it necessary for public safety, or where there is a risk that the young offender will not come back to the court if not held in a detention centre. In a detention centre, the young offender will be placed among other youths who have committed offenses and will be assigned a probation officer to assist the young offender with rehabilitating. During this process, young offenders will have the chance to deal with anger issues, stop drug or alcohol abuse, further their education, return to the community or to school after the detention and learn to make better choices.

What if the Young Offender has Mental Health Needs?

Where the young offender has special mental health needs, a Youth Mental Health Court Worker may assist them in accessing mental health programs, or they may be directed to contact a regional youth justice office to learn more about such programs.

What Happens if a Young Offender has been Found Guilty of an Offence?

Where a young offender has been found guilty in court, they may be sentenced to a community-based sentence or a custody sentence.

What is Community-Based Sentencing?

Under a community-based sentencing scheme, the young offender may be placed in community service, attendance centres, restorative justice programs, probation, or under specialized mental health care.

Where a young offender is sentenced to community service, they may have to work in a local community centre or by other means that allow them to give back to the community. If a young offender is placed in an attendance centre, they will usually be required to be in attendance during the day, the evening, and on the weekends. However, each young offenders’ attendance requirements will vary on a case by case basis.

In attendance centres, the young offender will have the opportunity to talk with other teenagers about their problems, talk with family members, deal with drug and alcohol issues, receive tutoring, or receive skills on how to find a job. Such programs may take place for up to 240 hour in a 6 month period.

Under a restorative justice program, the focus will be on helping the young offender, and they will receive help in rehabilitating, understanding their actions, and learning ways to prevent future harm.

Finally, if a young offender is subject to probation, they will be under supervision in the community and be ordered to follow conditions set by the court. The young offender will meet with a youth justice probation officer and work together so that the young offender can stay out of trouble. Furthermore, the probation officer will: work with the young offender’s family to support the youth’s needs, have regular meetings with the young offender, set learning plans and goals with the young offender, help the young offender with educational and skills training, or refer the teen to an attendance centre or other program if necessary. The probation officer is also responsible for monitoring the young offender and has the legal authority to direct them to court where the conditions of the probation are not met. If a probation order is violated, this could result in a new offence.

What is Custodial Sentencing?

Custodial sentencing may be applied where the charges are particularly serious, or if the young offender has had prior charges or sentencing. Under this scheme, the young offender will be sent to a youth custody centre for a specified period of time set by the court. These facilities may be open or secure custody centres. An open custody facility is usually located in the community and the young offenders will be supervised by staff at all times and be required to seek approval for leave from the facility. In contrast, secure custody is much more restrictive and such facilities are located away from the community and guarded by fencing and security. Nevertheless, support programs will still be available and the young offender will work with the staff to learn new skills and reduce the likelihood of recidivism through: better decision making, victim awareness, education, dealing with drug/alcohol abuse, self-control/anger management counselling, learning life skills, playing sports or other recreational programs, and participating in social programs. Continuing education and skills programs are vital to helping the young offender make a successful transition back into society. Thus, even under custody sentencing, the young offender will have access to education in a full school setting or single classroom (depending on the size of the facility) or participate in programs run by volunteers that provide educational tutoring, preparation to enable the young offender to qualify for skilled trade certificates, and career preparation.

If the young offender has special health needs, the Youth Justice Telepsychiatry Program offered by the Hospital for Sick Children will be available to provide them with access to psychiatric services. Furthermore, the Syl Apps Youth centre can provide young offenders with access to psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses and art therapists.

What Rights do Young Offenders Have?

Young offenders in custody have the right to:

• Have a say in making a plan for their re-integration into the community
• Participate in decisions about their medical treatment, education, religion, discharge or transfer
• Be free from physical punishment
• Have access to dental and medical care
• Have access to education, training or work programs based on the young offenders’ preferences and abilities
• Have access to suitable and quality clothing that fits, and are appropriate for the intended activities and weather conditions
• Have access to well-balanced meals

Young offenders are also entitled to their privacy. This includes:

• The right to send and receive mail unless it is unlawful or includes items that aren’t allowed in the facility
• Personal property
• Use of telephone- but not cell phones
• Private time to speak with their family members or lawyers
• Religious practice

When Will Extrajudicial Measures Not be Available?

Extrajudicial measures are usually adequate to hold young offenders accountable unless the youth has a history of repetitive failures or refusals or if they pose a risk of harm or safety to the public.

What Other Sentencing Measures May a Young Offender Face?

If the young offender is processed before a youth justice court, and is found guilty of an offense, they court may take a series of sentencing measure, including:

• Reprimanding the young offender
• Discharging the young offender
• Ordering the young offender to pay a fine of up to $1,000

Can Parents Visit the Young Offender in Custody?

Each custody centre will have their own rules regarding visitation. Thus, it is important to check with the facility beforehand to ensure the proper rules and regulations are being followed. Generally, when visiting a custody centre, a parent will have to provide identification, sign in on a visitor’s log, leave personal items in a locker or with staff during the visit, and may not give, nor receive anything from the youth without staff approval. Most visits will usually be supervised for the sake of safety and security, but conversations will not be overheard.


Quick Facts

Who is a Young Offender?

A young offender is an individual between the ages of twelve and seventeen at the time of their offence.

Can Young Offenders be held on Bail?

Yes. If the Court feels as though the young person poses a risk to the community, they may be held in custody pending the outcome of the case.

What Rights do Young Offenders have Upon Arrest?

Young offenders have the same rights as adults upon arrest. In addition to the right to counsel, young offenders also have the right to speak with their parent or guardian and the right not to be identified in public.

What is Youth Justice Court?

When a young offender goes to trial, their trial is held in Youth Justice Court. Proceedings in this court are often held in private, with the details kept confidential.

Can Young Offenders be Sentenced to Jail?

In some cases, yes. While the courts will always choose a non-custodial sentence when possible, in the most serious cases where an offender needs to be separated from society, the court may impose a jail sentence.

What are Extrajudicial Measures?

Many youth matters are resolved outside of the formal court system through Extrajudicial Measures. Instead of a formal sentence, the court may refer the matter to a community-based program, may give the offender a warning, or impose an extrajudicial measure.

Can Young Offenders be Sentenced as Adults?

Young offenders who commit the most serious offences may be sentenced as adults if the Court feels as though a youth sentence would fail to hold the offender accountable for their actions.

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