If your child is arrested, it can be a very stressful time for you both. You may have questions about how your child will be treated, what rights you will have in the process and what you can expect from the criminal justice system.
In Canada, any child who is at least 12 years of age can face legal consequences for illicit behaviour. However, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), children must be treated differently than adults facing criminal charges. In today’s post, we talk about some of the core differences between the youth and adult criminal justice systems in Canada.
The YCJA states that the police and Crown counsel must ensure that children understand they have the right to speak to a lawyer. They are obligated to provide this information at various stages of the justice process, including when the child:
- Is first arrested
- Is being questioned by the police – and before choosing to respond to the police
- Is considering extrajudicial sanctions
- Appears in court at any time
The YCJA also provides additional privacy protections to children who are accused or found guilty of a crime. In general, your child’s identity will be kept private if they are under 18 and do not receive an adult sentence – though there are certain exceptions to this rule. Protecting the identity of children facing criminal charges is one way to help ease their transition back into the community without creating unnecessary barriers to their future.
The law provides parents with considerable latitude to participate in the youth justice system. As a parent, you have the right to be notified of your child’s legal situation. You will have the opportunity to speak on your child’s behalf at any conference, court hearing or sentencing – all of which will be taken into consideration in the outcome of your child’s case.
Children who are found guilty of a crime may be detained, but they may not be held in a penitentiary or correctional centre for adults. Instead, children who are sentenced to detention would stay in a youth custody facility.
Often, however, courts will try to find alternative sentences for children found guilty of a crime. Probation is the sentence more frequently given in youth justice courts in Canada. Under probation orders, your child may be prohibited from leaving the jurisdiction, may have required supervision by a provincial director, or may be required to attend school. Probation for children must not exceed two years. Other common types of community sentences include community service and fines.
If your child is arrested, it’s important to seek the help of an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. They can work with you and your child to make sure your child’s rights are protected and to fight for the best possible outcome.