Parent: What to Do When Your Youth is Charged with a Crime

Few things are more frightening for a parent than having your child be charged with a criminal offence. Despite common misconceptions, the Youth Criminal Justice Act is indeed a true criminal statute and a youth’s criminal record is not erased upon turning age 18. If your child has been charged with a crime, it is important to contact a criminal lawyer to protect his or her legal rights.

What is a Youth?


In the eyes of the criminal justice system, those under the age of 18 are deemed to be youths. This means ordinarily, any criminal offences committed by those under 18 will be dealt with in accordance of the Youth Criminal Justice Act instead of the Criminal Code of Canada (the “Criminal Code”). Further, section 13 of the Criminal Code specifies that no person shall be convicted of an offence for any act or omission committed while under the age of 12. Therefore, the youth criminal justice system applies to those over age 12 and under age 18.

Are Youth’s Ever Charged with Crimes in Canada? How Will I Know If My Child Has Been Charged?

Yes! The Youth Criminal Justice Act is a criminal statute. While it operates a little differently than the Criminal Code, it still allows for severe consequences, including custody in serious matters. The law requires that police inform parents when youth are charged with offences. Section 26 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act requires police officers to give notice to parents of young persons if they have been detained in custody and to provide the reason for the arrest. Also, if a youth has been given an order to appear in court the police must provide the parent with written notice of this summons.

If a Youth is Convicted, What Happens Next? Can a Youth Get a Criminal Record?

While the Youth Criminal Justice Act has different aims and objectives of sentencing, the punishments available are similar to the adult Criminal Code and can include custody. Last year, in the case of R. v. T.W, 2017 ONCJ 374 (CanLII), a youth, age 14 at the time of the offence, was sentenced to 18 months in custody for theft of a motor vehicle resulting in a crash that killed a young passenger.

Like adults, young offenders can also receive criminal records. While youth criminal records are somewhat different than adult records, they can still exist. Generally, members of the public cannot obtain a youth criminal record. However, victims, police officers and public agencies involved in criminal proceedings will have access to the records.

Contrary to popular belief, youth criminal records are not destroyed when an individual turns age 18. Rather, the record is open for a specified access period. The access period ranges from a period of several months if an individual is acquitted to several years if someone is found guilty. In Children’s Aid Society of Toronto v. A.C., 2016 ONCJ 750 (CanLII), a judge granted the Children’s Aid Society access to a youth’s criminal record for purposes of pursuing a protection proceeding against A.C. who had a criminal record as a youth. Because the access period had not expired, the judge granted access to specific records in respect of a robbery charge and failing to comply with recognizance charge, which could then be used against A.C. in a child protection proceeding regarding A.C.’s newborn child, J.C-W.

Fortunately, Ontario has formally established alternative measures programs for young offenders and offenders with special needs. Typically, diversion is offered as an option for first time offenders who have been charged with a relatively minor offence, such as property offences under $5,000, causing a disturbance, or possession of a small quantity of marijuana for personal use. The Crown attorney will normally screen the charges to determine whether diversion is appropriate in the circumstances. If a youth who has been charged with an offence has not been screened as eligible for diversion, then his or her defence lawyer may be able to convince the Crown attorney to reconsider the decision. The final decision is made by the Crown attorney, however, and there is no further recourse.

What Should I Do If My Child Is Charged?

If your child is charged with a criminal offence it is important to remain calm and supportive of your child, no matter how angry you may be. Ensure that you are available to support your child at all stages, including questioning by police, arrest and court appearances. It is important not to provide unnecessary information to the police. While you may provide the name, birth dates and addresses of yourself and your child, extra information may turn out to be harmful in your child’s criminal case.

Some parents believe providing information such as issues at home or involvement with negative peers may lead to police giving their child a break. However, the police may be seeking this information as part of a larger investigation. If you feel at any time that you or your child are being forced to speak with police, remember that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides your youth the right to remain silent and to speak to a lawyer.

What If My Child is 18 or Older?

Young persons who are age 18 or older who are charged with a criminal offence will be dealt with as any adult offender would be. Generally, courts view youthfulness as a mitigating factor and may be more inclined to pass a lenient sentence avoiding prison time, and possibly avoiding a criminal record in minor offences. The Criminal Code also allows for the use of alternative measures for all adult offenders. In practice, the Crown prosecution is more likely to recommend such measures for youthful offenders who committed minor offenders and who have not been criminally charged previously. Such alternative measures may include mediation, community service, and potentially a mental health, drug treatment, or domestic violence program.

If your child is over the age of 18, it is important to keep in mind that the consequences of a criminal record may be more impactful. For example, adult criminal records can impact not only current employment, but future employment, certain volunteer opportunities and sometimes travel as well.

Contact Engel & Associates, Criminal Lawyers for Youth Court Cases in Ottawa

It is important to contact an experienced criminal lawyer if your youth has been charged with an offence. Call 613-235-6324 to speak to a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa. We are experienced in handling all kinds of criminal offences, including those under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

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