The PLEA: The Youth Criminal Justice Act

The PLEA: The Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Police and Arrest

The police cannot arrest people on a whim. There must be good reasons.

The police cannot arrest anyone without any evidence of a crime. Nor can the police arrest or punish people just because they dislike something about them or the way they look. The police do not have the power to arrest people on discriminatory grounds such as race, colour, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, or age.

To arrest someone, the police need reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a person has committed or is about to commit an indictable (serious) offence. Reasonable grounds means that the police officer has a strong suspicion—and some evidence to back-up the suspicion—that a crime was or will be committed. The officer can then arrest and search the person for further evidence.


If a young person is placed under arrest, they have certain rights.

They have the right to know why they are being arrested. This allows the person who is arrested to know what charge they face.

People under arrest also have the right to remain silent, other than identifying themselves. This gives the young person the chance to exercise their right to talk to a lawyer and a parent or other adult before talking to the police. Statements given to the police may be used against the young person in court, so having a lawyer or parent or other adult around can be important for protecting the young person’s rights.

It is important to remember, however, that the right to remain silent does not include the right to lie to the police.


Because police have some discretion, young people who are believed to have committed or are about to commit an offence may not be arrested. The police have several options available. Sometimes, they can use extrajudicial measures such as cautions or warnings. This means the young person will not have to go to court. We’ll talk more about extrajudicial measures on pages six and seven.

Sometimes a young person will not be arrested, but could be issued a ticket if the police believe they have broken a law. This is often the case for some provincial and local laws that do not fall under the Criminal Code, such as traffic laws or littering laws. (Local and provincial laws do not fall under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.) If a young person is issued a ticket, they can pay the fine or appear in court to challenge it.

Sometimes an offence is so serious that the young person will be arrested, charged, and then either released or kept in custody.

CONSIDER THIS: Scenarios for Arrest

A police officer on patrol sees a red-faced young man in jogging shoes running down the street. Does the officer have the right to arrest the young person?

No. There is no evidence that a crime has been committed.

But then an elderly man points at the red-faced young man and shouts “He stole my wallet!” There is a wallet in the young man’s hand. Does the officer now have reasonable grounds to arrest the young person?

Yes. There is some evidence which suggests an offence may have been committed.

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