Comparison of Case Processing Under the Young Offenders Act and the First Six Months of the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Characteristics of the Case

1. Social Characteristics

The gender of cases did not differ in the two time periods. There was no difference by Aboriginal status except in downtown Vancouver, where there was a twofold rise (from 23 to 49 percent of cases entering the court) in the percentage of Aboriginal youth dealt with under the YCJA. In the overall sample, the young persons whose cases started after the new law were marginally older; the difference was remarkable only in Halifax where youth were on average almost a year older after the new law. These data are not shown in table form.

2. Prior Record

In the total sample, there was no difference in the percentage of first offenders dealt with by the youth courts before and after the YCJA. In some locations, it is impossible to draw conclusions on the trend in prior record because the percentages of unknown data differ in the two time periods (see the “not known” row in Table 1). That is, no conclusions can be drawn about the differences in the percentage of first offenders entering youth court in Halifax, Toronto/Scarborough, and Edmonton because of the disproportionate number of “not knowns” in either the “pre-“or “post-“ groups. In the courts where comparisons can be made – Winnipeg, downtown Vancouver and Surrey – there were no significant differences in prior record. [3]

3. Number of Current Charges

Instant charges are the charges that brought the case into the sample. In Edmonton, on average, there were more charges laid after the Act began than there were before, an average of 5.4 per case compared to 4.4. Fewer charges were involved in cases in Vancouver and Surrey and this is confirmed by the impressions of system personnel, many of whom have commented on the sharp drop in the number of charges. There was no difference in the average number of charges in the sample overall. See Table 2.

However, in downtown Vancouver there was a non-significant increase in the average number of past convictions, from 3.8 to 4.9 per case (and the median number of past offences rose from 1 to 2.5). In Surrey, the average decreased in the YCJA period. In Winnipeg, there was no change in the average or median number of earlier findings of guilt. In the total sample, the average number of prior convictions went from 3.2 under the YOA to 3.5 under the new legislation, a non-significant difference. These data are not shown in table form.

4. Types of Current Charges

This analysis looks at the nature of the charges that brought the young person to court, including the charges where no guilty finding sentence occurred.

Charges were categorized by their major offence category – whether indictable or hybrid/summary and by the type of offence, person, property, drugs, weapons, administration of justice, or “other” (victimless) charges. This categorization is a rough approximation of seriousness, with indictable offences being the most serious and hybrid or summary offences less serious. Offences against the person, especially indictable charges of this type, tend to be seen as the most serious of all charge categories. Charges of probation breach, other offences against the administration of justice, and all “other” offences are considered the least serious by some observers because they lack a victim. Tables 3 and 4 should be examined together. The former shows the distribution of the major offence categories under the YOA and the YCJA and Table 4 presents the distributions for several prominent, usually less serious, specific offences.

The distributions of the pure indictable offence categories did not differ significantly after the law’s proclamation, which suggests that any police or prosecutor uncertainty about charging young persons did not apply to the most serious offence groupings.

Hybrid offences against the person showed a significant decrease over time in the total sample, but other than in Edmonton the drops were not sufficiently large to reach significance (Table 3). When assault level one charges were isolated from other hybrid person charges, there were proportionately fewer in the total sample as well as in the Edmonton court (Table 4).

Hybrid or summary property offences went down substantially in Edmonton and Vancouver/Surrey (Table 3). The charge of theft under $5,000 showed large reductions in Halifax, Edmonton and Vancouver/Surrey; possession under $5,000 went down in Halifax and Winnipeg (Table 4).

The two most frequent charges in the administration of justice category are breach of probation conditions and failure to attend court or failure to comply with other bail conditions. Both types of charges – non-compliance with probation and with bail release conditions – went up appreciably in the sample overall (Table 4). The increase in probation violations was largely confined to Halifax and Vancouver/Surrey (Table 3) and the change in bail violations was accounted for by the Halifax and Edmonton courts (Table 4). In Winnipeg, there was a marginal and statistically non-significant decrease in bail-related charges.

Thus, there were moderate differences in the distribution of offence types being dealt with before and after the YCJA. Most notably, administration of justice charges increased. Less serious offences involving persons and property decreased in the total sample and in a few individual courts. The most serious “pure” indictable offences showed no change over time.


[3] However, in downtown Vancouver there was a non-significant increase in the average number of past convictions, from 3.8 to 4.9 per case (and the median number of past offences rose from 1 to 2.5). In Surrey, the average decreased in the YCJA period. In Winnipeg, there was no change in the average or median number of earlier findings of guilt. In the total sample, the average number of prior convictions went from 3.2 under the YOA to 3.5 under the new legislation, a non-significant difference. These data are not shown in table form.

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