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Tom Rees | Criminal Defence Lawyer Winnipeg

Information about Youth Sentenced as Adults

Tom Rees & Company specializes in youth criminal law. The Criminal Code and a number of other Acts provide the legal foundation for criminal law for adults in Canada. The Youth Criminal Justice Act applies to young people between 12 and 17 (inclusive) and creates special rules that apply to young people, especially in the areas of sentencing and diversion.

To see the Youth Criminal Justice Act, click here.

Young people can be sentenced as adults in certain situations (for more information, click here). A judge must look to section 72 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act for the rules about when to sentence a young person as an adult:

  •  (1) The youth justice court shall order that an adult sentence be imposed if it is satisfied that

    • (a) the presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability of the young person is rebutted; and

    • (b) a youth sentence imposed in accordance with the purpose and principles set out in subparagraph 3(1)(b)(ii) and section 38 would not be of sufficient length to hold the young person accountable for his or her offending behaviour.


The Presumption of Diminished Moral Blameworthiness

In Canada, it is presumed at law that young people have diminished moral blameworthiness. That means that the prosecution would have to show that the particular young person charged with the offence was not less morally blameworthy as an similarly situated adult in order to rebut the legal presumption.


Section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act

This section is very important to the interpretation of the entire Youth Criminal Justice Act. As it states at the beginning of the act, the entire act should be viewed through the lens of this section:

  •  (1) The following principles apply in this Act:

    • (a) the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by

      • (i) holding young persons accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person,

      • (ii) promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons who have committed offences, and

      • (iii) supporting the prevention of crime by referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community to address the circumstances underlying their offending behaviour;

    • (b) the criminal justice system for young persons must be separate from that of adults, must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability and must emphasize the following:

      • (i) rehabilitation and reintegration,

      • (ii) fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity,

      • (iii) enhanced procedural protection to ensure that young persons are treated fairly and that their rights, including their right to privacy, are protected,

      • (iv) timely intervention that reinforces the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences, and

      • (v) the promptness and speed with which persons responsible for enforcing this Act must act, given young persons’ perception of time;

    • (c) within the limits of fair and proportionate accountability, the measures taken against young persons who commit offences should

      • (i) reinforce respect for societal values,

      • (ii) encourage the repair of harm done to victims and the community,

      • (iii) be meaningful for the individual young person given his or her needs and level of development and, where appropriate, involve the parents, the extended family, the community and social or other agencies in the young person’s rehabilitation and reintegration, and

      • (iv) respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences and respond to the needs of aboriginal young persons and of young persons with special requirements; and

    • (d) special considerations apply in respect of proceedings against young persons and, in particular,

      • (i) young persons have rights and freedoms in their own right, such as a right to be heard in the course of and to participate in the processes, other than the decision to prosecute, that lead to decisions that affect them, and young persons have special guarantees of their rights and freedoms,

      • (ii) victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the minimum degree of inconvenience as a result of their involvement with the youth criminal justice system,

      • (iii) victims should be provided with information about the proceedings and given an opportunity to participate and be heard, and

      • (iv) parents should be informed of measures or proceedings involving their children and encouraged to support them in addressing their offending behaviour.

  • Marginal note:Act to be liberally construed

    (2) This Act shall be liberally construed so as to ensure that young persons are dealt with in accordance with the principles set out in subsection (1).

Section 38 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Section 38 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act outlines the purpose and principles of sentencing youth in Canada.

  •  (1) The purpose of sentencing under section 42 (youth sentences) is to hold a young person accountable for an offence through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences for the young person and that promote his or her rehabilitation and reintegration into society, thereby contributing to the long-term protection of the public.



Note: The information on this page is not legal advice. You should consult a lawyer if you or your child is facing the prospect of an adult sentence.