The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is the law that applies to young offenders.

The Act sets out the principles, rules of procedure and sentences for youth between the ages of 12 and 17, inclusively, at the time of the offence for prosecution under federal laws, such as the Criminal Code. It also guarantees the respect of the young person’s rights and freedoms.

The measures provided by the YCJA aim to encourage the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons and to repair the harm done to the victim and the community.

The criminal justice system for youths is therefore distinct from the adult system and is based on the principle of lower moral culpability. It aims to establish a fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the youth’s state of dependency and level of maturity.
The measures taken must clearly establish the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences, be meaningful for the individual young person given his or her needs and level of development, and reinforce his or her respect for societal values.

The YCJA encourages the participation of parents, extended family, members of the community and social or other agencies in the youth’s rehabilitation and reintegration.

The Act calls for the respect of ethnic, cultural, linguistic and gender-based differences and for responsiveness to the needs of aboriginal youth and of other youths with special requirements.
Persons responsible for enforcing this Act must act with promptness and speed, given young people’s perception of time.

Alternative justice organizations (Organismes de justice alternative or OJA) are mandated to apply some of the measures of the YCJA.