Fixing Canada’s Youth Justice System
In a recent presentation to the Brampton Board of Trade’s Public Affairs Committee, I mentioned a newspaper story about a 14-year-old Brampton high school student, who, charged with first-degree murder, faces a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted.
The theme of my speech was Canada’s youth criminal justice system and how it is undergoing fundamental changes in its philosophy and its provisions. These changes coincide with the introduction and passage of the federal government’s Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), which came into effect on April 1, 2003 and replaced Canada’s Young Offenders Act.
So, it seems that the government is finally getting tough on youth crime. Well, sort of; it’s not that simple. The new Act is tougher on the “worst” criminals than its predecessor the Young Offenders Act, but it also takes a more community-based restorative approach towards a large majority of offenders. Let me start by explaining the government’s new strategy to youth justice:
The Youth Criminal Justice Act, http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/dept/pub/ycja/youth.html is part of a larger Government of Canada youth justice renewal strategy that will result in among other things:
▪ a more targeted approach to the use of custody for young people (Canada imprisons more youth than any other Western country);
▪ a system designed to rehabilitate and reintegrate young offenders;
▪ an increase in the use of community-based sentences for certain youth crime;
▪ increased public confidence in the youth justice system.
I would now like to discuss the above points in context for my readers. In response to the first point of this strategy, Canada does indeed have one of the harshest young offender systems in the western world. As a nation, Canada is not good at rehabilitation. We incarcerate our young offenders at 10-times-the-rate we do our adult population and, believe it or not, twice the rate of American young offenders.
The second point is quite clear, and it is something that needs to be fixed. It’s been proven in European countries, that by keeping young offenders out of jail, you can keep them from becoming career criminals. Consider some harrowing statistics:
Ø 43% of Canadian young offenders who are convicted will be charged again within 1 year of their sentencing date
Ø 34% of Canadian young offenders that are charged and found guilty are incarcerated or put into custodial care (These individuals are exposed to intensified criminal behaviour, sexual, emotional and physical abuse, violence and drugs.)
Now consider the following quote from a recent Globe and Mail article entitled Young offender centre called hellish — “Toronto’s young offender detention centre is a violent, squalid jungle where supervision is so slack that terrified youths live in fear of being assaulted…” (Kirk Makin, Nov. 27, 2002)
Next consider the source for this story – an Ontario Court judge. Clearly, even insiders acknowledge the ineffectiveness of our existing system provides the breeding ground for future criminals.
To address points three and four (community-based sentences and increased public confidence in the system,) I will revisit my presentation to the Brampton Board of Trade on that rainy Thursday morning in May.
Specifically, I was discussing the process of creating massive social change through something called the PACT Young Offender Program, running out of the Scarborough, Ontario, Youth Court. PACT is a three-stage program designed to help all young offenders and victims including serious cases. The stages are as follows:
Phase 1 – The resolution conference
Inspired by a model developed in the Australian aboriginal community, a dialogue is initiated between the victim, offender, family, community and police, leading to a binding resolution agreement.
Phase 2 – Specialized counseling
Offered to re-offenders and the most seriously traumatized victims.
Phase 3 – Coaching and mentoring
This level of the program is geared towards the most serious young offenders and is used in situations that require ongoing help and life transformation.
The PACT program has been running for 18 months and is reducing the re-offense rate of young offenders by greater than 90 per cent. PACT makes young offenders take responsibility for their crimes, while taking strain off the justice system and empowering victims.
The reason that I mentioned the story about the14-year-old Brampton high school student was to illustrate a point – the Youth Criminal Justice Act is not soft on crime. On the contrary, it leverages programs like PACT, which takes an incredible burden off the youth court, so it can focus on the most extreme cases effectively.
The program has matured in its first full year to a point where it is ready to expand as a ‘social franchise’ to other youth courts across the GTA and its surrounding districts – including Brampton.
To find out how PACT transforms lives. Please visit our website at www.pactprogram.ca.
PACT Young Offender Program
About the author
David Lockett is the president of The Canadian Foundation for the Prevention of Family Violence (PACT’s parent foundation. has been helping people for more-than 20 years. A successful transportation entrepreneur, David was one of the founding members of Toronto’s Parkdale Rotary Club in 1987, and was the founding president the Redwood Shelter for abused women and children.