The Young Offenders Act
A Continuing Debate
There is no question in society as to whether or not young people are committing crime. In fact, since "1986 to 1998 violent crime committed by youth jumped approximately 120%." The Young Offenders Act is a heated debate in today's society, and one of the most controversial Acts in Canadian history since it was introduced in 1984. Some people think a complete overhaul is needed, others think minor changes would suffice, still others feel it is best left alone. Youth crime is a tough issue, with many differing opinions. Punishment and rehabilitation, one, the other, or both, all topics of debate within society. If you were to discuss the issues with the parents of a victim, it would be understandable that their opinions would differ greatly than those of the parents of the offender. Many people have formed an opinion without an in depth look at the act. Others simply do not care. The question that needs to be answered is, does the Young Offenders Act in Canada properly address the victims' rights, the rights and needs of the young offender, and does it protect public safety? That question is hard to answer, as some people think that the Act is a more decent and humane way to approach young persons in trouble with the law. On the other hand others feel it offers too much protection to those whom least deserve it -- the young offenders, and very little to those who deserve it -- the victims. I think the Young Offenders Act should concentrate on making young offenders aware that they will be held responsible and accountable for their behaviour.
To begin, it must be understood that the Young Offenders Act is a replacement piece of legislature for the outdated Juvenile Delinquents Act. The Juvenile Delinquents act was enacted in 1908, and was replaced by the Young offenders Act on April 2, 1984. The Juvenile Delinquents Act was a part of legislature that focused mainly on parental and social welfare of the child. It dealt with children as young as seven years of age regarding not only criminal behaviour but also sexual immortality. The Juvenile Delinquents Act allowed for many different courses of action for any child that was found to have delinquent behaviour. Placements in an industrial school for an indefinite period of time, committed to the children's aid society, or placed in a foster home were all available options under the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The options were made available by the Act "on the assumption that the offending child was in a condition of delinquency and therefore requiring help and guidance and proper supervision." The Juvenile Delinquents Act was used in order to "save" the child. More often than not the delinquent children were not treated fairly and their interests were not looked after. They were not guaranteed counsel, they did not have definite sentences set out in the act, nor were they allowed to appeal a decision made by the court. The Juvenile Delinquents Act essentially denied the offender the basic fundamentals of due process. Although it was not a unanimous vote, the public did have a high degree of understanding on the fact the Juvenile Delinquents Act was in definite need of major change.
Major change was enacted on April 2, 1984, more commonly known as The Young Offenders Act. The Young Offenders Act is another piece of legislation that is under a high degree of scrutiny by the public. In most cases it is generally accepted, until an act of violence committed by a young person is shown in the media. Take for instance, the infamous case in England. A toddler by the name of James Bulger was brutally murdered, by two young boys aged ten and eleven. Those children received a ten year sentence, and received rehabilitation while in custody. Had the murder of James Bulger been committed in Canada, his killers would have never been charged. Under Canadian law, no child under the age of 12 can be charged with...
Bibliography: Ayed, Nahlah. "Liberals want young offender law to pass quickly." The Canadian Press, Monday, Feb. 5, 2001.
Leschied, Alan et al. The YOA, A revolution in Canadian Juvenile Justice, Toronto: U of T Press, 1991.
Jonathan Wamback Website (www.jonathonwamback.com)
Platt, Priscilla. Police Guide to the Young Offenders Act. Markham: Butterworths Canada Ltd., 1991.
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