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The Youth Criminal Justice System

In Ontario, when young persons between the ages of 12 and 17 get in trouble with the law, the legal system treats them differently from adults. When a youth breaks the law, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”) guides the police and courts as to what to do. Depending on the seriousness of the offense and the circumstances in which the offense was committed, the youth offender may get a warning or a formal caution from the police or be referred to a community program, or be charged and sent to court. These young persons have certain rights under the law, including privacy rights and protection from media scrutiny.

Rights of a young person

A young person means a person who is (or in the absence of evidence to the contrary) appears to be twelve years old or older, but less than eighteen years old.

Special considerations apply in court proceedings against young persons and, in particular, they have rights and freedoms such as the right:

  • To be heard in the course of and to participate in the court processes that lead to decisions that affect them;
  • To be treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect for their dignity and privacy;
  • To be provided with information about the court proceedings, and
  • To inform their parents of measures or proceedings involving them and have them encouraged to support in correcting the young person’s offending behavior.
After turning 18 years old

Proceedings started under the Youth Criminal Justice Act against a young person can be continued in youth court after the person turns eighteen years old. If the alleged offense was committed while the accused was a young person, the YCJA applies even if the person is now older than 18.

Right to Counsel

A young person has the right to hire a lawyer without delay, and to exercise that right personally, at any stage of a case against them.

If a young person is arrested or detained, the arresting officer must immediately tell the young person about their right to hire a lawyer and be given an opportunity to talk to or meet with a lawyer.

Notice to Parents–in cases of arrest and detention

If a young person is arrested and detained in custody, the officer-in-charge must tell the parent or guardian of the young person as soon as possible about the arrest, stating the place where they’re being detained and the
reason for the arrest.

Notice to parents–when not necessary

If the offense was committed by the person while a young person but the hearing before the youth justice court comes up after that person turned twenty years old, the parent or guardian does not need to be informed.

Online Safety

Social media has a major impact on youth and their daily activities of networking.

Social networking applications, websites, chat rooms, and online forums are part of everyday life. The more we use these online applications, the more we might be risking our safety and privacy. If we are not careful about how we use it, the internet can be a dangerous place. Sexual harassment and bullying are two major dangers that youth can face online.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s ( Centre for Youth Crime Prevention provides definitions and guidelines in terms of cyberbullying. It is important to be aware of these factors and the laws about online activities. Any misuse of information online can have major consequences, including criminal liability.


Cyberbullying involves the use of
communication technologies like social
networking apps, websites, email, text
messaging, and instant messaging to
repeatedly intimidate or harass others.

Cyberbullying can include:
  • Sending mean or threatening emails or text messages
  • Posting embarrassing photos of someone online
  • Creating a website to make fun of others
  • Pretending to be someone by using their name online
  • Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and then sending it to others
  • Making fun of someone (using the technologies listed above) because of their appearance, gender, religion, or sexual orientation
  • Repeatedly teasing or calling someone names using the technologies listed above
  • Posting a comment about someone online that upsets them
  • Sharing someone’s intimate images without consent
Bullying and the Law

In Canada, traditional crimes that are committed using an electronic device fall under the provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. Many cyberbullying activities can fall under different categories of criminal law and anyone accused of these crimes can be charged under the Criminal Code and may be sent to jail if they are found guilty. These Criminal Code charges can include:

Criminal Harassment

Repeated tormenting of someone online, with texts, phone calls, and/or emails, causes the other person to fear for their safety.

Distribution, etc. of Child pornography

Sharing intimate photos and videos of anyone under the age of 18 (a minor).


Threatening to share someone’s personal information with others if they don’t do what you want them to do.

Identity Theft/Fraud

Creating a fake online profile using someone else’s identity information, in order to ruin their reputation. If you or anyone known to you is experiencing any of the above, including bullying or threats, you may notify your local police detachment or report it to CYBERTIP.CA. Based on the available information, police will decide
what action needs to be taken to prevent harm. The police may lay criminal charges against anyone who is found to be involved in online criminal activities, and once convicted the penalties could include imprisonment.


Carding is also known as street checks.

The general intelligence-gathering practice of the Toronto Police Service known as “carding” has been viewed as a systematic violation of the rights of many people in our communities. Now, there are new regulations in
place to prevent discrimination and unlawful collection of information by the police.

In Ontario, the police are not supposed to collect identifying information “arbitrarily,” or based on a person’s race or presence in a high-crime neighbourhood, in certain instances.

Police officers cannot ask you for identifying information or to see an identifying document while they are only:

  • Looking into suspicious activities;
  • Gathering intelligence;
  • Investigating possible criminal activity.

Police officers can ask you for identifying information or to see an identifying document while they are:

  • Doing a traffic stop;
  • Arresting or detaining you;
  • Executing a warrant;
  • Investigating a specific crime.

Under new carding regulations, the police must tell anyone they stop on the street that they have the right not to give any identifying information. Police must also provide a reason why they are requesting identifying information to any person they stop on the street.

A citizen can walk away or decline to answer if they were stopped by the police just because they were in a “high-crime location.” Police must also offer citizens a document with their name, badge number, and instructions on how to contact the Office of the Independent Police Review Director if they have concerns about their contact with the officer.

The police officers cannot attempt to collect your identifying information simply based on the way you look or the neighborhood you live in.

The police officers cannot attempt to
collect your identifying information
simply based on the way you look or
the neighbourhood you live in.

Sexual Offences

The Criminal Code aims to protect people from sexual abuse and exploitation. For example, it aims to protect everyone, including children, against:

  • sexual assault;
  • sexual assault with a weapon;
  • aggravated sexual assault;
  • voyeurism (which includes secretly watching other people’s private
    and sexual lives);
  • trafficking in persons; and
  • non-consensual distribution of intimate images.


What is Sexual Exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is when a person in authority or trust takes sexual advantage of another person using their position and power. A 16 or 17-year-old cannot consent to sexual activity in certain circumstances, because even if they say they consent the law still considers these activities sexual exploitation. The following are some examples of these types of activities:

  • the young person’s sexual partner is in a position of trust or authority towards them, for example as their teacher or coach;
  • the young person is dependent on their sexual partner, for example for care or support;
  • the relationship between the young person and their sexual partner is exploitative.

The following factors may be considered when determining whether a relationship is exploitative of the young person:

  • the young person’s age;
  • the age difference between the young person and their partner;
  • whether the relationship developed quickly, secretly, or over the internet;
  • whether the partner may have controlled or influenced the young person.
Laws of Consent

Any sexual relationship has to be consensual. It is important that youth know the laws about consent and how important it is to obtain the consent of their partners when they are in a relationship. It is illegal to touch
or feel a person without their consent. All sexual activity without consent is a criminal offence, regardless of age. These are serious offences that carry serious penalties.

All sexual activity without consent is a
criminal offence, regardless of age


Age of Consent in Canada

The age of consent to sexual activity in Canada is 16 years old. In some cases, the age of consent is higher (for example, when there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependency). In other words, a person must generally be at least 16 years old to be able to legally agree to sexual activity.

Consent to Sexual Activity

The age of consent is the age at which a young person can legally agree to sexual activity. Age of consent laws apply to all forms of sexual activity, ranging from kissing and fondling to sexual intercourse.

Close in Age Exceptions

A 14 or 15 year old can consent to sexual activity as long as their partner is less than five years older and there is no relationship of trust, authority, or dependency or any other exploitation of the young person. For example, their partner cannot be their caretaker, teacher, or coach, etc.. This means that if the partner is 5 years or older than the 14 or 15 year old, any sexual activity is considered a criminal offence.