Punishments for youth crime aren’t serious enough in Canada

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Youth crime is an ever-present issue in Canadian society but without a doubt has remained on the backburner of Canadian politics. Neglected by the government and the judicial system, it isn’t a surprise that this issue still has a huge impact on our national community.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act, a Canadian statute that came into effect on Apr. 1, 2003, was established primarily to combat this problem by taking a passive approach. The aim was to understand what provokes a delinquent’s actions. However, ultimately, the Youth Criminal Justice Act is too lenient in regards to serious youth crime.

No one can deny that many adolescents don’t have the maturity to sufficiently understand their actions. With incentives such as peer pressure or a continual lack of strict authority, many young offenders fall into the trap of first committing lighter crimes. As such, this judicial system aims to understand the circumstances that lead to their criminal actions, taking a more optimistic approach to dealing with the adolescent.

Additionally, crime is a part of the public domain and the government is responsible for helping these disillusioned youth better function in their community through empathetic means. There are a large number of optimists who feel that other convictions such as open custody, community service and psychological aid will teach youths to respect the law as well as society. Therefore, the goal of this lenient system is to address their developmental problems and social needs in order to create successful law-abiding citizens.
Nevertheless, you must acknowledge that it is a mistake to believe that these youth don’t have the capacity to fully comprehend the extent of their criminal actions.

There are individuals who understand the limitations of our criminal system and take advantage of the court’s generosity. It’s true that youth who commit very serious crimes, such as murder, receive similar judgment as adults who commit the same crime. However, those cases are exceptions, as the majority of serious youth crimes involve drugs, weapons or forms of assault.

There are a number of problems with these so-called rehabilitative programs. Firstly, they don’t have a huge effect on the majority of first-time delinquents. In 2011, close to 60 per cent of youth who had committed violent crimes re-offended in less than two years. Yet, the courts remain lenient towards serious crime. One example is the decline in prison sentences for serious youth crime, which have decreased by 25 per cent. Still, there have been more violent youth offences in recent years than ten years ago. Clearly these individuals are not changing their behaviour and still remain threats to their communities.
In addition, the convictions of adolescents who re-offend do not reflect the seriousness of their crimes, and it is an injustice for their victims.

Re-offenders of violent crimes get little to no jail time for subsequent offences as the courts have a preference towards reintegration programs. Undoubtedly, it’s not hard to realize that prison sentences are a court’s last resort. However, one case I wish to bring up is that of a 17-year-old male student who had committed his second sexual assault in the bathroom of his Woodville high school. Although this circumstance was his second offence within four years, he received a sentence of only 18 months of strict probation. His victim, however, felt that this conviction did not bring her any justice.

The main problem I wish to bring forth is that the majority of serious crime re-offenders have already gone through these programs, which failed to rehabilitate their actions.

Lastly, the majority of these crimes have a large impact on the community and lenient convictions ensure these delinquents return to society much earlier. For example, there was a case in Toronto concerning a 16-year-old student who brought a loaded 9-mm pistol and a sack of cocaine and marijuana to the school.

His actions not only had an impact on his school and the student body but also the educational system that monitors student safety. The court’s emphasis on the individual rather than their community is unjustifiable. This increase in youth crime gives Canadian society the idea that there is a lack of security within the public domain. Unquestionably, the actions of these delinquents, no matter how naïve, have a real impact on our society.

Like many adults, young offenders do not concern themselves with the consequences of their actions. In addition, the leniency of the youth criminal courts ensures that these individuals rarely receive strict convictions. Without a change in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, we will not find a decrease in the severity of youth crime. In the end, without a proper form of punishment, how can we expect anyone to change their criminal behaviour?


  1. I can understand your frustrations towards the YCJA, but they are created with anger and emotion. We are all concerned for the well being of our country but we mustn’t act too rashly in creating harsher punishments. We must look at facts: since the YCJA has been enacted, youth charged from 1995-2006 is going down (cit. Statistics Canada study, 2005) and so we benefit. We must also look at why crimes are committed, they can be due to lack of housing, jobs, literacy, access to food, things that contribute to the good life. I am not justifying the crimes done by youth, I am addressing the need to fund these things. According to Brad Odsen [an executive of the John Howard Society, a sort of conscience to our criminal justice system] states that, “For every dollar spent on programs to prevent crime – like community development and recreation for young people – society would save seven to twenty dollars on the justice system that deals with crime.”

    Prevention makes good sense economically, it makes good sense socially, and it’s the right thing to do. Keep a clear conscience when politicians say they will enact laws that will punish criminals more harshly, they are things we want to hear. We must do what is best for Canada.

  2. I have to politely, but completely disagree with the above. I am compelled to say that your presumptive assessment that the article is the result of anger, therefore indirectly condemning the writer to the realm of ingnorance, is unfair and inaccurate. When youth are serving no time for violent criminal offences, including murder, it might be time to conduct some newer research. Sentences in Canada mean virtually nothing, as no one serves their actual sentence (if there was a sentence given in the first place). Victims often have to endure repeated parole hearings, and discussion about a convicted murderer’s “plans for the future” and participation in special “recreational” programs. The judge has far too much room for individual bias, resulting in sentences which reflect their own personal agenda, political leanings, and desire to appear favourably to the public. There is neither consistency, nor compassion for victims in the majority of criminal trials. The police and the citizenry have all but lost faith in the justice system.

    Crime rates and gun violence have skyrocketed in the GTA over the last year. Our community has not supported the police service, and similarly to the health sector, has done nothing but make drastic budget and staffing cuts. I think we are riding the crest of a societal tipping point. Too many bureaucrats and not enough investment in housing, transit and other essential services is driving a once safe, healthy, vibrant city toward ever increasing financial and social inequality. Our politicians should spend less time spending public funds on meaningless press tours and find the growing population of homeless, crack-addicted and gang-parented citizens, some concrete immediate help.

    While prevention is an extremely important and irreplaceable tool, I think concurrently re-evaluating our response to serious crimes, no matter the person’s age is crucial. In closing, what is best for Canada is not the status quo. We need to wake up from our political self-involvement and gain some real perspective. We need social change now, not 20 years from now when the appropriate field studies have been sufficiently analyzed and debated until they’re irrelevant and meaningless. You can’t please everyone all the time, but allowing victims of all kinds to be ignored, re-victimized and given few rights is simply hiding behind an artificial veil of so-called Canadian politeness and naïveté. Update: the World is no longer buying it. We need substantive and decisive change. Citizens matter, and violent criminals don’t.

    Yours Sincerely,


  3. seems legit baller fam

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