Canada

Ottawa replaces Young Offenders Act

After years of complaint and controversy the Young Offenders Act has been rewritten. The government has introduced tough new legislation that takes a harsh line with violence and forces parents to take more responsibility for their children's behaviour.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act was supposed to be brought in last fall. It was delayed when some provinces, particularly Quebec, objected to the new approach.

Federal officials say the proposed legislation now addresses everyone's concerns by allowing provinces to opt out of some of the harsher measures.

Here are some of the highlights of the legislation:

The Young Offenders Act attracted strong criticism when it came into force 15 years ago. Many people believed it was too gentle with young criminals -- even though Canada jails youth at four times the rate of adults and twice the rate of the United States.

  • NewsOnline article: No harsh measures for Quebec offenders

    "There have been several media interviews where young offenders seem to be laughing at the legislation -- that's created a very bad impression," said Julian Roberts, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.

    Tory justice critic Peter Mckay -- a former Crown attorney -- hopes the new act will hold young people more responsible for their actions. However, the get-tough stance is defeated by opting-out option, he said.

    "It doesn't mean simply making it harder on young offenders; it means making them more accountable and putting a greater emphasis on protecting the public," Mckay said.

    As the new act is introduced, Reform justice critic Chuck Cadman will be thinking of his son, Jesse, killed by a young offender who was free on bail because his father promised to watch him.

    The Youth Criminal Justice Act incorporates a private member's bill introduced by Cadman. It raises the maximum jail term for parents whose children commit crimes while under their supervision.

    That change, says Cadman, is a "small, positive legacy" for Jesse.

    Justice Minister Anne McLellan believes the new act -- written and rewritten over the past six months -- addresses the concerns that the Young Offenders Act was too lenient. "I certainly think so," she said. "But that's up to others to assess."