Lesson 6: Youth Criminal Justice Act – Key Elements Part 2

Topic 1: YCJA Conferences

What is a YCJA Conference?

A YCJA conference is when a group of people get together to talk about the young offender’s case and what can be done to help the young offender. The people there are responsible for the youth and generally, they know the youth. The conference gives advice to the people who decide on what should happen to the youth. See Section 19 of the YCJA.

Did You Know?

A youth justice committee helps manage the Act. This could includes supporting victims and ensuring that community support is available for you.

  • Conference facilitators need to be trained to organize, plan and hold a conference for a youth who has committed an offence.
  • Conference on community justice started with the Maori people of New Zealand. They are similar to healing circles. Other Indigenous groups have similar models.
  • Healing circles come from North America's Aboriginal traditions where the crime is seen largely as a community problem to be shared by all with its roots in the community.
  • Conferences on community justice and healing circles are examples of "restorative justice processes." Have you heard of or experienced a healing circle?

Types of YCJA Conferences

Conferences are informal. They can be:

  • Family group conferences
  • Community members
  • Sentencing or healing circles
  • Multi-disciplinary (probation, judges and lawyers and teachers)
  • Integrated case management conferences

What Happens in a Conference?

Conferences can provide:

  • A wide range of ideas on the case
  • More creative solutions
  • Better coordination of services between justice partners
  • More involvement of the victim(s) and other community members

Conferences can be restorative. Solutions may focus on fixing the harm done to the victim(s) of the crime.

Who May Call a Conference?

  • A youth justice court judge
  • The provincial director in charge of Social Services
  • A police officer
  • A justice of the peace, who is an officer of the court with some of the powers of a judge. A justice of the peace is assigned to do limited duties, such as issuing warrants and granting bail
  • A youth worker

What is a Conference For?

A conference can give advice on:

  • Extrajudicial measures
  • Conditions for release while youth are waiting for their trial
  • Sentences
  • Review of sentences
  • Plans for getting youth back into the community

Who is the Advice Given to?

The advice goes to someone who has to make a decision under the Act, such as a:

  • Police officer
  • Judge
  • Justice of the peace
  • Prosecutor
  • Provincial director in charge of Social Services
  • Youth worker

For example, the conference could give advice to a police officer who is deciding whether to use an extrajudicial measure or to a judge who is deciding on a sentence.

Who Sets the Rules for Conferences?

Provincial governments can set rules for conferences called by the:

  • Police
  • Provincial director in charge of Social Services
  • Prosecutors
  • Youth workers

If there are no rules, then the conference can still be called. The conference must be consistent with the general terms of the YCJA. The provincial government does not set rules for conferences called by judges or justices of the peace.

The conference must be guided by the main ideas in the Act. This means that:

  • Extrajudicial measures should be the first response if possible
  • Pre-trial detention is generally discouraged
  • Sentencing must consider the seriousness of the crime and other things
  • Custody is generally avoided
  • Rehabilitation and reintegration are part of the plan for the youth

What is a Youth Justice Committee?

 It is a group of people appointed by the federal or provincial government. The committee helps manage the YCJA or programs and services for youth.

Summary

  • A conference means getting together a group of people with some responsibility or knowledge of the offending youth to discuss what measures might assist that youth
  • Conferences are informal and can take the form of family group conferences, community accountability panels, sentencing or healing circles and multi-disciplinary or integrated case management conferences
  • Conferences provide for a wide range of perspectives on the case, more creative solutions, better coordination of services, and increased involvement of the victim and other community members in the youth criminal justice system
  • The conference could be restorative in that the solution focuses on repairing the harm done to the victim of the offence
  • Section 19 of the YCJA sets out who may call conferences, the purposes of conferences, and the authority to establish rules for them
  • A youth justice court judge, the provincial director, a police officer, a justice of the peace, a prosecutor or a youth worker can convene a conference
  • The conference may be convened to give advice on appropriate extrajudicial measures, conditions for judicial interim release, sentences, review of sentences and reintegration plans
  • The advice is given to a police officer, judge, justice of the peace, prosecutor, provincial director, or youth worker who is required to make a decision under the YCJA
  • Provincial or territorial governments can establish rules for convening and conducting conferences called by the police, the provincial director, prosecutors, and youth workers
  • Conferences must be guided by the principles set out in the YCJA in respect to extrajudicial measures, pre-trial detention, sentencing, custody, and reintegration
  • A youth justice committee is a group of citizens appointed by the government to assist in the administration of the YCJA or any programs or services for youth

Introduction to Restorative Justice

Restorative justice approaches such as community justice conferencing and healing circles promote the philosophy that attempts to address youth crime must focus on strengthening communities.

Criminal Acts

Our adversarial system of justice treats a criminal act as an act against the state. Criminal offences disrupt society, which the government has a responsibility to protect. Consequently, the state (or the Crown) takes the accused to court. The Crown Counsel prosecutes cases for the state.

Victims

Victims are the Crown’s witnesses. The crown uses their testimony to prove the crime occurred. Victims are not parties to criminal trials. (In civil court, a victim would be a party since he or she is responsible for starting and continuing the court case).

For the victim, the process provides a greater role than is available within the existing justice system. It creates an opportunity for the victim to ask questions, receive answers, gain understanding, and explain the impact of the crime in order to obtain reparation, feel safe and seek closure.

The Accused

A restorative process allows an offender to gain insight into the causes and effects of their behaviour, to take responsibility in a more meaningful way and to be reintegrated into the community. Certain rights, including the right to remain silent, protect the accused for two reasons:

  • The state is much more powerful and has more resources than an individual
  • The accused can be deprived of his or her liberty if found guilty in criminal court

The Community

The process enables the community to reinforce its values and expectations, to understand the underlying causes of crime, and to determine what can be done to repair the damage, promote community well-being and prevent future crime.

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice treats a criminal act as harm done to victims and communities. It seeks a solution to the problems caused by the criminal offence. Thus, it involves victims and community members affected by the crime, such as family members of the victim and offender, in finding a resolution.

Instead of punishment, restorative justice emphasizes:

  • The offender’s shared responsibility for a lasting solution
  • The offender’s acknowledgment and willingness to take responsibility for the victim’s suffering
  • Forgiveness

Community Justice Conferencing

Our court system is adversarial — one side argues against the other. While this seems to be a good method for settling many disputes, going to court can be a time-consuming and expensive process. It can also leave many individuals feeling dissatisfied. For example, victims of crime often feel that offenders deserve stiffer sentences or, at times, victims feel neglected in the court process. However, this is changing as the justice system begins to show more concern for victims.

Community justice conferencing has proven to be very effective in some situations as a way of correcting wrongs in a cooperative manner. Community justice conferencing is an example of an effective restorative justice process. Police officers or volunteers who have been trained in the process often run community justice conferences.

Who Participates?

Not all offenders qualify for these types of programs. Nor are offenders or victims forced to participate. The police or Crown or judges decide whether offenders are eligible for these programs. They evaluate each case to see if these programs would hold offenders accountable for their behavior adequately. It is available through a referral by police, prosecution, judges or correction officials and at different stages of the process.

Other such measures or sanctions may include:

  • Taking no further action
  • Warnings, police or Crown cautions
  • Referrals to community-based programs

Each province determines the measures or sanctions that they will implement under the YCJA.

What Happens?

The conference facilitator arranges a meeting between the investigating police officer, the offender, the victim and people who are willing to support the victim and offender (parents, grandparents, siblings and/or friends). They sit in a small circle and the facilitator leads them through a process that requires the offender to accept responsibility for wrongdoing.

  • Victims have an opportunity to tell the offender how the wrongdoing has affected them. Others in the circle are allowed to do the same.
  • Apologies are usually made to all who have been adversely affected.
  • The victim may suggest ways the offender can mitigate the harm that was done. For example, if the offence was vandalism, repairing the damage might be a good start.
  • Once the group has come to an agreement, the facilitator writes up an agreement, which everyone signs.

What is the Result?

  • For the offender: the final settlement of the offender might appear less punitive than a result in a criminal court but it requires a greater commitment on the part of the offender. Facing one’s victim in a small group and apologizing for the wrongdoing is not easy for most offenders
  • For the victim: because of their active role in the process, victims usually receive more satisfaction from a community justice conference. The victim is usually helped by:
    • Learning of the offender’s motivations for the wrongdoing
    • Receiving an apology
    • Seeing the offender’s remorse
    • If the victim doesn’t wish to participate in the process, a proxy can stand in. For example, police officers, ICBC employees and school administrators have sat in a conference on behalf of victims

Community justice conferencing originated with the Maori people of New Zealand and shares similarities with healing circles. Other indigenous groups have similar models.

Healing Circles

Healing Circles can be another form of restorative justice. One does not have to be a First Nations person in order to participate. Healing Circles come from North America’s Aboriginal traditions and are most commonly, although not exclusively, used in Aboriginal communities. They can take different forms depending on the needs of the parties and the traditions of the community.

Healing Circlescan, for example, be sentencing circles or healing circles. The focus of the dialogue in the circle is broader than a family group conference. The offending behaviour is seen largely as a community problem to be shared by all with its roots in the community. Both family group conferencing and circles require significant planning and forethought before the conference commences.

See Activity 3: Conferences for examples of conferences and healing circles.