Principles and Purposes of Youth Sentencing
- 1 General Principles
- 2 Protection of the Public
- 3 General Deterrence
- 4 Denunciation and Specific Deterrence
- 5 Accountability and Meaningful Consequences
- 6 Rehabilitation and Reintegration
- 7 Purpose Prior to 2012 Amendments
- 8 See Also
Section 3 of the YCJA under the header of "Declaration of Principle" states:
Policy for Canada with respect to young persons
3. (1) The following principles apply in this Act:
- (a) the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by
- (i) holding young persons accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person,
- (ii) promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons who have committed offences, and
- (iii) supporting the prevention of crime by referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community to address the circumstances underlying their offending behaviour;
- (b) the criminal justice system for young persons must be separate from that of adults, must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability and must emphasize the following:
- (i) rehabilitation and reintegration,
- (ii) fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity,
- (iii) enhanced procedural protection to ensure that young persons are treated fairly and that their rights, including their right to privacy, are protected,
- (iv) timely intervention that reinforces the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences, and
- (v) the promptness and speed with which persons responsible for enforcing this Act must act, given young persons’ perception of time;
- (c) within the limits of fair and proportionate accountability, the measures taken against young persons who commit offences should
- (i) reinforce respect for societal values,
- (ii) encourage the repair of harm done to victims and the community,
- (iii) be meaningful for the individual young person given his or her needs and level of development and, where appropriate, involve the parents, the extended family, the community and social or other agencies in the young person’s rehabilitation and reintegration, and
- (iv) respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences and respond to the needs of aboriginal young persons and of young persons with special requirements; and
- (d) special considerations apply in respect of proceedings against young persons and, in particular,
- (i) young persons have rights and freedoms in their own right, such as a right to be heard in the course of and to participate in the processes, other than the decision to prosecute, that lead to decisions that affect them, and young persons have special guarantees of their rights and freedoms,
- (ii) victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the minimum degree of inconvenience as a result of their involvement with the youth criminal justice system,
- (iii) victims should be provided with information about the proceedings and given an opportunity to participate and be heard, and
- (iv) parents should be informed of measures or proceedings involving their children and encouraged to support them in addressing their offending behaviour.
Act to be liberally construed
(2) This Act shall be liberally construed so as to ensure that young persons are dealt with in accordance with the principles set out in subsection (1).
2002, c. 1, s. 3; 2012, c. 1, s. 168.
38. (1) The purpose of sentencing under section 42 (youth sentences) is to hold a young person accountable for an offence through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences for the young person and that promote his or her rehabilitation and reintegration into society, thereby contributing to the long-term protection of the public.
(2) A youth justice court that imposes a youth sentence on a young person shall determine the sentence in accordance with the principles set out in section 3 and the following principles:
- (a) the sentence must not result in a punishment that is greater than the punishment that would be appropriate for an adult who has been convicted of the same offence committed in similar circumstances;
- (b) the sentence must be similar to the sentences imposed in the region on similar young persons found guilty of the same offence committed in similar circumstances;
- (c) the sentence must be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence;
- (d) all available sanctions other than custody that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all young persons, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal young persons;
- (e) subject to paragraph (c), the sentence must
- (i) be the least restrictive sentence that is capable of achieving the purpose set out in subsection (1),
- (ii) be the one that is most likely to rehabilitate the young person and reintegrate him or her into society, and
- (iii) promote a sense of responsibility in the young person, and an acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and the community; and
- (f) subject to paragraph (c), the sentence may have the following objectives:
- (i) to denounce unlawful conduct, and
- (ii) to deter the young person from committing offences.
2002, c. 1, s. 38; 2012, c. 1, s. 172.
The various objectives listed in s. 3 are to be interpreted to "work together coherently and harmoniously".
There is no legal significance in the fact that protection of the public as being the first in the list of objectives.
Sentencing under the YCJA focuses on "the individual young person and how best to achieve the stated objectives of the [YCJA] in the particular circumstances."
To achieve the purposes of sentencing, a youth sentence must be:
- protect the public (s. 38(1))
- "meaningful" (s. 3(1)(a)(iii) and 38(1))
- "proportionate" to the gravity of the offence and offender's responsibility (s. 3(1)(b)(ii), 38(2)(c), and 38(2)(e)(iii))
- hold the offender "accountable" (s. 3(2)(c) and 38(1))
- "repair" the harm done to others and the community (s. 3(1)(c)(ii) and 38(2)(e)(iii))
- promote "rehabilitation" (s. 3(1)(b)(i) and 38(2)(e)(ii))
Purpose of Introducing YCJA
Parliament's intention with the YCJA is to "reduce over-reliance on custodial sentences for young offenders." It further intends to "prevent youth crime by addressing the underlying circumstances leading to the offending behaviour of a youth" and "promote rehabilitation of youthful offenders, while ensuring meaningful consequences for the offending behaviour."
The objectives of the YCJA have the effect of favouring "rehabilitation, reintegration and the principle of a fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the young person’s reduced level of maturity."
Difference from Adult Offenders
Section 3(1)(b) stating that "young persons must be separate from that of adults" necessarily means that a youth cannot have a joint trial with an adult.
Focus on Sentencing
The focus on sentencing under the YCJA should be upon "balancing conflicting principles to arrive at a sentence tailored to the individualized circumstances" of the offender.
R v JMO, 2017 MBCA 59 (CanLII) at para 46
JMO, ibid. at para 46
R v DW, 2011 NLCA 21 (CanLII)
see also R v AH, 2011 NLCA 25 (CanLII)
R v KS, 2009 NLCA 46 (CanLII)
R v EWA, 2009 NLCA 47 (CanLII)
- R v CD, 2005 SCC 78 (CanLII), (2005), 203 CCC (3d) 449
R v KO,  N.J. No. 291, 2012 NLCA 55 (CanLII), at para 31
- R v SJL, 2009 SCC 14 (CanLII),  1 SCR 426
- SJL, ibid.
R v JMO, 2017 MBCA 59 (CanLII) at para 47
Protection of the Public
Section 3 states that the "youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public".
The objective of sentencing under s. 42 of YCJA is to "contribut[e] to the long-term protection of the public".
The objective of protecting the public found within s. 38(1) is "not as an immediate objective of sentencing, but rather as the long-term effect of a successful youth sentence".
The YCJA "encourages an approach that takes into account the reality that public safety is best served by dealing with problems whiel there is still time".
- see s. 3 YCJA
see s. 38
Rv BWP, 2006 SCC 27 at para 31
BWP, ibid. at para 38
R v Smith,  NSJ No 461 at para 110
One of the major distinctions of youth sentencing from adult sentencing is that there is no application of the principle of general deterrence.
R v AO, 2007 ONCA 144 (CanLII),  O.J. No. 800 (Ont. C.A.) para 43
Denunciation and Specific Deterrence
The application of the objectives of denunciation and specific deterrence are a matter of discretion and are not necesary in every case. The relevancy of the specific deterrence found in s. 38(2)(f) is to focus only on those "very narrow set of violent and/or repeat offender".
The addition in 2012 of s. 38(2)(f) does not signal a departure from the overall scheme of the YCJA. Instead, the amendments represent a "philosophical shift... but not a tectonic one for sentencing non-violent and non-repeat offenders".
R v JMO, 2017 MBCA 59 (CanLII) at para 58
R v TRK, 2016 MBCA 14 (CanLII) at para 15 to 16
JMO, supra at para 58
JMO, supra at para 58
JMO, supra at para 48
Accountability and Meaningful Consequences
The principle of accountability drives "drives the entire YCJA sentencing regime." 
Accountability is achieved by imposing "meaningful consequences for the offender and sanctions that promote his or her rehabilitation and reintegration into society".
The principle must be "fair and proportionate" and "consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity".
Youth are not "less accountable" but are rather "differently accountable".
It is "concerned with the severity of the sentence in relation to the seriousness of the offence"." This include considering whether "the sentence meets the goal of ensuring the person is rehabilitated and reintegrated into society".
The principle of accountability under the YCJA is equivalent to the principle of retribution.
One of the over-arching premises of the YCJA is that young offenders "can be rehabilitated and successfully reintegrated into society so they commit no further crimes".
An accountable sentence is one that reflects "the moral culpability of the offender, having regard to the intentional risk-taking of the offender, the consequential harm caused by the offender, and the normative character of the offender's conduct". This normative analysis "of an offender's behaviour necessarily requires the court to consider societal values”.
Accountability requires that the sentence be long enough to reflect the seriousness of the offence and the offender’s role in it, as well as to provide reasonable assurance of the offender’s rehabilitation to the point where he/she can be safely reintegrated into society".
- R v .A.O., 2007 ONCA 144 (CanLII),  O.J. No. 800 (C.A.) at para 59
- A.O. at para 42
R v JMO, 2017 MBCA 59 (CanLII) at para 44 ("This is to be done by holding young persons accountable through proportionate measures, promoting their rehabilitation and reintegration, and referring them to local resources to address the circumstances underlying their offending behaviour.")
R v R.D., 2015 NSPC 83 (CanLII) at para 39 citing s. 3(1)(b)(ii)
RD, ibid. at para 54
R v DB, 2008 SCC 25 (CanLII) at para 93
R v SNJS, 2013 BCCA 379 (CanLII) at para 29
AO, supra, at para 46 ("unlike vengeance,...[it] incorporates a principle of restraint; retribution requires the imposition of a just and appropriate punishment, and nothing more")
RD at para 39
R v TPD, 2009 NSSC 332 (CanLII) at para 128
- AO, supra
- AO, supra
R v TM, 2017 BCSC 862 at para 72
R v R.D., 2015 NSPC 83 (CanLII) at para 36
R v SNJS, 2013] BCJ 1847
RD, supra at para 42
The term "meaningful consequences" requires an "individualistic judicial approach" to a youth sentence. The circumstances of the offender will be primary and the offence secondary in most cases.
- R v DLC, 2003 CanLII 32877 (NL PC) at para 30
Presumption of Diminished Moral Blameworthiness
The Crown bears the burden of rebutting the presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness when applying for an adult sentence.
Rehabilitation and Reintegration
Section 38 states the "purpose of sentencing ... [includes] promot[ing] his or her rehabilitation and reintegration into society, thereby contributing to the long-term protection of the public. " This is also one of the key policies listed in s. 3(1)(b)(i) of the YCJA.