Teaching Youth Justice

Lesson 1.1: Youth Justice: An Introduction

This lesson explores the concept of accountability for wrongdoing. Students will understand that while youth should be responsible for their actions, their age and maturity must also be factored in.

Teacher’s Background Information: Youth and the Law
Debates surrounding what to do when youth commit crime are not new. There are many different ideas about how crime should be dealt with.

Some people argue that any special rules for youth should stress that society has the right and the need to protect itself from violent anti-social behaviour, and that the weight of the Criminal Code should be applied in its full force to control youth, including sentencing youth to “adult time” for “adult crime.” Others argue that a more restorative approach is the proper way forward. For them, care, guidance, community involvement, and the application of a treatment approach to misguided children is preferred.

To better inform such a debate, it is helpful to better-comprehend the underpinnings of the Canadian criminal law system. In it, one basic concept is that before a person may be punished for a serious crime and face serious penalty, that person must have intended to commit the crime. For this reason we have special provisions to protect individuals who are not capable of forming the necessary intent.

As children grow up their awareness of the world increases and society expects them to be more responsible. Still, it may be too much—under certain circumstances—to ask even a 14 or 15-year‑old to be as responsible as an adult. For these reasons, the Canadian justice system deals with youth differently than adults. Very young children have no criminal responsibility for their actions. Adults are generally fully responsible for their actions. During the in-between period of ages 12 through 17, special rules apply. The Youth Criminal Justice Act is the law that spells out what these rules are regarding criminal responsibility of youth.

1. Using Teacher’s Background Information as a basis, discuss the following question as a class:
Do you think that young people should be held responsible for their actions in the same way adults are? Why or why not?

2. Distribute History of Youth Justice for class reading.
Laws that apply to youth involved in criminal activity can be designed to achieve a number of goals. This includes holding young people accountable for their actions, helping the young offenders, and protecting society. All these goals are mentioned in the principles of the YCJA.

  • Can the YCJA achieve all of these goals?
  • In what ways might some of these goals conflict with other goals?
  • Do you think any of these goals should be considered more important than any other? Why or why not?

3. Distribute Age of Criminal Responsibility to students so that they can consider the rationale for treating young people differently than adults under the law.

History of Youth Justice


Age of Criminal Responsibility