R. v. Wheeler, 2023 ONSC 1687
This Ontario Superior Court of Justice case explores the issue of when the YCJA applies to a criminal matter. The accused in this case was charged with two counts of sexual assault that were alleged to have occurred in the early 90s when the accused was around the age of 18. Because this was a historical offence, it was difficult to pinpoint when exactly the assaults occurred. This gave rise to the issue of whether a youth court had the jurisdiction to hear this case. According to the law, a youth court has jurisdiction over any matter that may deal with an accused under the age of 18 unless it can be proven that the accused was older.
The issue was resolved by first requiring the accused to produce evidence showing they may have been a youth at the relevant time. In this case, the accused’s birthday fell after the alleged offence date. The next step is for the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was an adult when committing the alleged offence. The Crown failed to satisfy this burden and the youth court was given jurisdiction over the case. This did not mean the charges were dropped, only that the Crown had to decide whether to press new charges under the YCJA.
R. v. O.B., 2022 ONCJ 413
This Ontario Court of Justice case deals with the sentencing process for youth offenders and specifically, the availability of prison sentences. The youth in this case was convicted of multiple crimes and the Crown argued for a prison sentence connected to a drug possession for the purpose of trafficking charge. Section 39(1)(d) of the YCJA allows for custodial sentences to be imposed on youth offenders who commit serious offences that are non-violent. Offences, such as the trafficking of fentanyl, which was the situation in this case. The facts showed that the offender had been released on bail at the time of the offence and had attempted to dispose of evidence.
It was also determined that the offender had been trafficking for many years, but the defence argued that the behaviour as due to an unstable home life, severe mental health challenges, and a learning disability. The fact that the offender had begun his own rehabilitation was also highlighted. All these factors are among those typically considered during sentencing. However, there was an additional element that led to the final decision that a custodial sentence was inappropriate in this case.
The police had violated the offender’s rights by neglecting to inform him of his right to counsel. This gave rise to an interesting dynamic in the case. The justice system cannot effectively hold offenders responsible if it does not hold itself responsible. The violation of the offender’s rights warranted a remedy, which took the form of a lesser sentence. This is especially true because of the enhanced importance that is given to the protection of youth rights in the justice system. The offender was given two years of probation along with a small fine and some other conditions.
R. v. J.L., 2020 ONCJ 29
This Ontario Court of Justice case is an example of when a prison sentence will be given to a young offender. Here, the offender was the driver involved in a car crash that killed one of his friends and injured others. The crash led to a conviction on one count of criminal negligence causing death and several counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. This was a violent offence which opened what is known as the gateway to custody under the YCJA.
Even when sentenced to prison, a youth sentence will always be for a shorter term than adult offenders. This reflects the principle of youth offenders’ reduced moral blameworthiness. Here, the maximum possible sentence was three years imprisonment. On top of these principles, a judge must also review the circumstances of the offence and the offender when before issuing a punishment that is the least restrictive yet appropriate measure. In this case that measure took the form of an 18-month sentence with a DNA order and five-year weapons ban. The sentence was only the physical consequence of the offender’s action. The offender also had to contend with the lifelong guilt that came from knowing the harm caused by his willful decisions made behind the wheel.