Prime Time Crime


(Prime Time Crime Oct. 15, 2008)


Today’s “Untouchables” = Youth Criminals


   By David Toner

I’m going to start this article with a strong statement; The Youth Criminal Justice Act, revamped in 2003 by the Federal Liberals out of the previous Young Offenders Act, has been a dismal and unmitigated failure.

Reform of the old Act might, in fact, be a generous word. Ask the many police officers who work daily in the system, and they might say neutered, eviscerated, emasculated, etc. The fact that youth were committing more and more crimes up until 2001 created a novel and strange reaction from the Government of the day. They decided to re-tool the youth legislation, so less of them get charged with offences – thereby lowering the crime rate. Brilliant!! A stroke of genius!!

Rather than addressing the issue of youth crime and violence, they opted for a system that sweeps the problem under the rug. If they aren’t getting charged, there are no pesky crime statistics to have to defend. Frequently referred in police circles as the “You Cant Jail Anyone Act”, the new legislation pushed the envelope of deferral even further than its predecessor, the YOA. Officers now can only consider arrest and detainment of youth as a last resort. Other options that an officer is compelled to consider include simply ignoring the offence, or issuing a verbal warning. Under Section 6 of the YCJA, this consideration is to be offered in all offences from car theft to sexual offences, since the YCJA makes no distinction on the type of crime committed. So rather than jailing Junior for drug dealing or car theft, we just tell him not to do it again?

The key to meaningful YCJA reform begins with holding youth accountable for their crimes. Those who feel that victims of crime are vengefully seeking retribution against these poor little souls should think of the bigger societal picture. Beyond merely punishing the young offender for his action, we must adhere to one of the basic principles of criminal sentencing; the public denunciation of the act. Failure to mete out punishment condones the crime. Failure to hold the young offender personally responsible only serves to spur him on in his anti social behaviour.

The Federal Government recently announced plans to have young offenders named publicly, a suggestion that immediately drew criticism from civil rights groups. These critics are contrary to the public good. By naming offenders we bring back some of what was lost in the justice system when it slid so far to the left. We make the young person responsible in the eyes of the community for their actions. Those that suggest that naming offenders only “unfairly classifies them” and ensures they continue in their criminal path have been the victims of junk psychology. By that I mean that there has never been any conclusive scientific proof that protecting the identity of a young offender in any way contributes to their rehabilitation. Conversely, there have been tragic examples of violent young sex offenders who could not be named under the act, moving into an unsuspecting community and then committing horrific crimes.

Once again people, we must start putting the good of society ahead of what is perceived as the good of the offender. Accountability is what is missing from the YCJA, and what is needed for any real progress to be made.

F.A.C.T. is currently working on a proposed amendment to the YCJA that would create a new classification for those youth who demonstrate a repetitive pattern of violent crime: the “Habitual Violent Young Offenders” designation. This designation would mirror the Dangerous Offender legislation currently in the adult Criminal Code, and allow judges to sentence violent youth to lengthy prison terms – something not possible under current legislation.

This proposed legislation will not doubt be criticized, likely for holding youth criminals to such serious account for their actions…. There is a pervasive attitude in our society that young people are not responsible for their actions. This lack of responsibility, lack of ownership for their actions or the consequences of them, is what breeds that “I’m untouchable” mindset in many youths. Failure to punish youth for their crimes does not do them any favours. They only grow into adult criminals who don’t believe they can be held responsible for anything.

Please visit our website,  for more information on the proposed legislation.

David Toner is the Public Affairs Coordinator for F.A.C.T. and can be contacted at



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