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Understanding the youth justice system


February 22, 2024 Laws and Rights


Par Sabrina Sanchez


The youth justice system, governed by the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), is designed to deal with offences committed by young people in a way that takes into account their age, level of development, and particular needs. Knowing the key players in this system will help you better understand the role of each in the youth process.

The police 

The police play a crucial role in the initial process for young people charged with offences. Throughout the process, public safety remains a priority, and they ensure that the young person's rights, including the right to be presumed innocent and the right to counsel, are respected. As a parent, you can be fully involved at this stage of the process by accompanying your child during interactions with the police.

When an offence involving a young person is reported, police conduct an investigation to gather evidence and determine whether an arrest is appropriate.

In keeping with the principles of the YCJA, police have the option of choosing extrajudicial measures rather than laying formal charges in court. Where the offence is minor, police may choose to deal with the matter without recourse to the formal legal system. This may include warnings or referrals to community agencies to educate and empower the young person, without the need for a juvenile record. 

If the police feel that a formal charge is necessary, they can refer the case to the Crown Prosecutors, who will then decide whether to take the case to youth court or refer it to the extrajudicial sanctions program.

The Youth Division of the Court of Québec

At the heart of the system is the Youth Division, which hears cases involving young people who have committed offenses. In the event of a guilty verdict, it is the judge who has the decision-making power and is responsible for determining the sentence to be imposed on the young person. 

Judges in this court are trained to understand the nuances of adolescence and to tailor sentences to promote rehabilitation and accountability rather than punishment. 

Criminal and Penal Prosecutors (CPP)

Crown Prosecutors represent the State in legal proceedings and have the protection of society at heart. Their role is to ensure that justice is done fairly, but also to take into account the rehabilitation objectives of the system for young offenders.

Defense lawyers 

Defense attorneys are responsible for representing the interests of adolescents. Their role is crucial in ensuring that the adolescent's rights are respected, and in making the case for appropriate rehabilitative measures.

Youth delegates

The delegate analyzes the specific needs of adolescents referred by prosecutors (PCSP) and determines their eligibility for the extrajudicial sanction program. In cases where the judge determines that a young person is guilty, the delegate applies the Court's orders under the YCJA. The delegate handles probation, custody, and community supervision. 

By evaluating adolescent offenders' situations, the delegate develops intervention and service plans to promote their social integration, taking into account the risks to society. At times, the delegate may be called upon to manage breaches of orders. At all times, the aim is to make the teen responsible and enable them to repair the damage caused in the most appropriate way.

Alternative Justice Agencies (OJA)

OJA workers work in collaboration with delegates and other partners to ensure a comprehensive approach tailored to the young person's needs. Their role is to support the young person in applying the measures determined by the judge or delegate, i.e., reparation measures for victims or for the community, as well as social skills development workshops. In Laval, Mesures Alternatives Jeunesse de Laval (MAJL) is responsible for supporting young people with legal provisions. 

Being well-informed about the key players in the YCJA helps parents assume an active, informed, and supportive role in their child's judicial process, thus fostering fairer outcomes that are better adapted to the young person's needs.

We hope the above information will help reduce the anxiety and stress associated with your child's legal situation. Remember that the main goal is not only to punish, but above all to give young offenders the means to become responsible citizens.

References (in French)

Éducaloi, Les adolescents et la justice pénale 
Gouvernement du Canada, Aperçu de la Loi sur le système de justice pénale pour les 
Gouvernement du Québec, Loi sur le système de justice pénale pour les adolescents - Les sanctions extrajudiciaires 
Gouvernement du Québec, La Loi sur le système de justice pénale pour les adolescents - Les sanctions judiciaires 
MAJL, À propos 
MAJL, La LSJPA, c’est quoi?