The Impact of the Youth Criminal Justice Act on Police Charging Practices with Young Persons: A Preliminary Statistical Assessment

3.0 Findings (continued)

3.3 Substantial interprovincial/territorial variations in charging in 2003

As expected, there was considerable variation among the provinces and territories [32] in the annual levels of recorded youth crime and of young persons charged. There was also considerable interprovincial/territorial variation in the changes in these indicators which occurred in 2003. In Table 1 (below), the provinces and territories are classified into three groups: those in which it appears that the YCJA has had the expected effect on police charging; those in which the evidence is equivocal; and those in which the YCJA does not appear to have had the expected effect.

Table 1. Changes from 2002 to 2003 in annual rates and proportions of young persons charged, Canada and provinces/territories

Change in rate charged Change in % charged Change in rate chargeable Conclusion
Canada - 16% - 19% + 3% Large reduction in charging
Provinces/territories in which the expected changes occurred
Change in rate charged Change in % charged Change in rate chargeable Conclusion
Yukon - 49% - 41% - 13% Very large reduction in charging
Manitoba - 24% - 22% - 3% Large reduction in charging
Ontario - 23% - 27% + 5% Large reduction in charging
New Brunswick - 17% - 14% - 5% Large reduction in charging
Alberta - 12% - 11% - 1% Reduction in charging
Nova Scotia - 11% - 21% + 12% Reduction in charging
British Columbia - 20% - 17% - 4% Large reduction in charging; may be partly due to a pre-existing trend
Provinces in which the evidence is equivocal
Change in rate charged Change in % charged Change in rate chargeable Conclusion
Prince Edward Island - 30% - 44% + 24% Large reduction in charging; may be due to a pre-existing trend; evidence of increased youth crime or increased use or recording of extrajudicial measures.
Newfoundland and Labrador - 8% - 21% + 16% Small reduction in charging; may be due to a pre-existing trend; evidence of increased youth crime or increased use or recording of extrajudicial measures.
Quebec - 4% - 11% + 8% Very small reduction in charging; may be due to a pre-existing trend
Provinces/territories in which there is no evidence of the expected changes
Change in rate charged Change in % charged Change in rate chargeable Conclusion
Saskatchewan - 12% + 14% No change in charging; evidence of increased use or recording of extrajudicial measures.
Northwest Territories (including Nunavut ) + 5% - 11% + 19% Increase in charging; evidence of increased youth crime or increased recording of extrajudicial measures.

Source: Appendix, Tables A.1 and A.2

Ontario is a good example of a province in which the changes in 2003 in the indicators of police charging practices with young persons are consistent with expectations based on the legislation. The rate of young persons charged in Ontario decreased by 1,056 in 2003 to 3,500 per 100,000: a drop of 23% from the level in 2002 and of 33% from the average level during 1986 to 2002 (Figure 7). [33]

Figure 7. Rates of young persons charged and not charged (extrajudicial measures), Ontario, 1986-2003

Rates of young persons charged and not charged (extrajudicial measures), Ontario, 1986-2003

Description of Figure 7.

Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
See Appendix Table A.1

The decrease in charging from 2002 to 2003 is even more pronounced if it is broken down by quarter (Figure 8, below). Although there was a small decrease (6%) in the first quarter of 2003 compared with the first quarter of 2002, the decrease from 2002 to 2003 was much greater in the last three quarters: 32%, 30%, and 23% respectively, for an overall decrease in the last three quarters of 28%. [34]

Figure 8. Rates of young persons charged, by quarter, Ontario, 2001-2003

Rates of young persons charged, by quarter, Ontario, 2001-2003

Description of Figure 8.

Note: The quarterly rates are annualized by multiplying by 4.
Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. See Appendix Table A.4.

The rate of young persons in Ontario who were dealt with by extrajudicial measures increased in 2003 by 1,389 per 100,000, which was greater than the decrease of 1,056 in the rate of youth charged. As with the decrease in charging in 2003, the increase in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures becomes clearer if it is examined separately by quarter (Figure 9, below). Compared with the corresponding quarter of 2002, there was a small increase in the use of extrajudicial measures in the first quarter of 2003, then extremely large increases in the last three quarters: 93%, 77%, and 71% respectively, for an overall increase of 80% during the last three quarters.[35]

Figure 9. Rates of young persons dealt with by extrajudicial measures, by quarter, Ontario, 2001-2003

Rates of young persons dealt with by extrajudicial measures, by quarter, Ontario, 2001-2003

Description of Figure 9.

Note: The quarterly rates are annualized by multiplying by 4.
Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. See Appendix Table A.4.

The proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged in Ontario in 2003 was 51%, which represents an absolute drop of 19% and a relative drop of 27% from the level in 2002 (Figure 10, below). [36] Although there was a small decrease (8%) in the proportion charged in the first quarter of 2003, much larger decreases occurred in the final three quarters, when the YCJA was in force: 25%, 22%, and 19% respectively, for an overall decrease of 22% in the last three quarters of 2003, or 32% relative to the level in 2002 (Figure 11, below). [37]

Figure 10. Proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged, Ontario 1986-2003

Proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged, Ontario 1986-2003

Description of Figure 10.

Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
See Appendix Table A.2.

Figure 11. Proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged, by quarter, Ontario, 2001-2003

Proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged, by quarter, Ontario, 2001-2003

Description of Figure 11.

Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. See Appendix Table A.5.

The total rate of chargeable young persons in Ontario was 6,860 per 100,000 in 2003, which is well below the average rate of 7,910 for the period 1986 to 2002, but 5%, higher than the average rate of 6,550 for the period of 1999 to 2002 (Figure 12). [38] The evidence suggests that this increase was mainly or entirely the result of improvements in police reporting of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures, rather than representing an increase in youth crime or net-widening by the police (see Section 3.2 above).

Figure 12. Rates of chargeable young persons,Ontario, 1986-2003

Rates of chargeable young persons,Ontario, 1986-2003

Description of Figure 12.

Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
See Appendix Table A.3.

In summary, it appears that the YCJA caused a large reduction – approximately 23% - in 2003 in the rate of young persons charged in Ontario, and a corresponding increase in the rate of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures. The proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged dropped by 27% relative to the level in 2002. These numbers understate the impact of the YCJA because they include the first quarter of 2003, when the YOA was still in force.

Similar changes, of varying magnitudes, occurred in the Yukon, Manitoba, New Brunswick, [39] and Alberta. [40]

In Nova Scotia, the rate of charging of young persons was 11% lower in 2003 than in 2002 (Appendix, Figure A.3a). This suggests the expected impact of the YCJA, although the drop in charging was evident only in the last two quarters of 2003 (Figure A.3b). The recorded rate of use of extrajudicial measures was 32% higher in 2003 than in 2002 (Figure A.3a), and this increase occurred only in the last three quarters (Figure A.3c). The proportion of chargeable youth who were charged dropped by 21% in 2003, and this drop was concentrated in the last three quarters (Figures A.3d and A.3e). The recorded rate of chargeable young persons was 12% higher in 2003 than in 2002 (Figure A.3f). This increase in the rate of chargeable youth appears to be a continuation of a trend which began in 2000, and is therefore unlikely to be related to the YCJA. This four-year rising trend could be due to any or all of the following: increased levels of youth crime, increased success of the police in detecting youth crime and apprehending young offenders, increased use by the police of alternatives to charging, and/or increased reporting of the use of alternatives. We were not able to distinguish among these possibilities with the available data.

In British Columbia, the rate of youth charged was 20% lower in 2003 than in 2002, but the rate of charging young persons has been decreasing in that province since 1991 (Appendix, Figure A.9a). [41] The average annual decrease in the charge rate from 1991 to 2002 was 364 per 100,000, whereas the decrease from 2002 to 2003 was twice as large: 721 per 100,000. Therefore, it appears that approximately half of the decrease in 2003 can be attributed to the impact of the YCJA on police practices with respect to recommendations to charge and the use of extrajudicial measures. The impact of the YCJA, versus the secular downward trend in charging, can be seen clearly when the annual rates of charging are disaggregated by quarter (Figures A.9b and A.9e). The decreases in charging are much greater in the last three quarters than in the first quarter. In 2002, British Columbia had the lowest proportion of chargeable youth who were charged (37%) [42] of any province or territory in Canada ; nevertheless, this decreased by a further 17% to the very low figure of 31% in 2003 (Figure A.9d). The drop was concentrated in the last three quarters of 2003, strongly suggesting the impact of the YCJA (Figure A.9e).

In Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, the rate of young persons charged in 2003 was lower than in 2002, but in both provinces, the rate of charging had been decreasing since 2001; therefore it is unclear to what extent the decreases in 2003 were due to the provisions of the YCJA , rather than being continuations of pre-existing trends. [43] The proportions of chargeable young persons who were charged decreased much more in both provinces in 2003 than in previous years (Figures A.1d and A.2d), but these decreases reflect very large increases in 2003 in the recorded numbers of youth receiving extrajudicial measures, [44] rather than substantial decreases in charging. As a result, the number of youth recorded as chargeable in these two provinces increased substantially (by 16% in Newfoundland, and 24% in P.E.I.; see Figures A.1f and A.2f and Table A.1). These findings suggest any or all of the following: increased levels of youth crime, increased success of the police in detecting youth crime and apprehending young persons, increased use by the police of alternatives to charging, and/or increased reporting of the use of alternatives. We were not able to distinguish among these possibilities with the available data. Looking at the breakdowns by quarter does not clarify the situation in these two provinces. In Prince Edward Island, the decreases in the rate of youth charged were much greater in the last three quarters of 2003 than in the first, but this does not necessarily indicate the impact of the YCJA, since it was also true in 2002 (Figure A.2b). The decreases in the proportion of chargeable youth who were charged were much larger in the last three quarters of 2003 (Figure A.2e), but this was due primarily to the increases in the numbers of youth receiving extrajudicial measures (Figure A.2c), rather than decreases in charging. In Newfoundland and Labrador, there were substantial decreases in charging in the second and fourth (but not the third) quarters of 2003, but this was also true in 2002 (Figure A.1b). As in P.E.I., the substantial drops in the last three quarters of 2003 in Newfoundland and Labrador in the proportion of chargeable youth who were charged (Figure A.1e) were due more to increased recorded use of extrajudicial measures (Figure A.1c) than to decreases in charging.

In Quebec, the rate of youth charged or recommended by police to be charged [45] has been declining since 1991; thus, the small decrease (4%) in 2003 is not necessarily a result of the coming into force of the YCJA (Figure A.5a). The 11% decrease in 2003 in the proportion of chargeable youth who were charged (Figure A.5e) reflects the 18% increase in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures (Figure A.5a), and a corresponding increase (of 8%) in the total rate of chargeable youth (Figure A.5f), more than a decrease in charging. The breakdowns by quarter show a substantial drop in the rate and proportion of youth charged (Figures A.5b and A.5e), and a corresponding increase in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures (Figure A.5c) only in the second quarter of 2003. The overall conclusion is that the YCJA has had little or no impact on police (and Crown) charging practices in Quebec: there was a small (4%) decrease in 2003 in the rate of youth charged or recommended to be charged in Quebec, but it is possible that it was simply the continuation of a pre-existing downward trend.

In Saskatchewan, the rate of young persons charged in 2003 was unchanged from 2002, and higher than in all but one year since 1986 (Appendix, Figure A.7a). The recorded rate of young persons receiving extrajudicial measures increased in 2003 by 38% over 2002 (Figure A.7a) and the overall rate of chargeable youth increased by 14%, to an all-time high of 21,040 per 100,000 (Figure A.7f). The result of these changes in rates is that the proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged dropped from 64% in 2002 to 56% in 2003 (Figure A.7d). Since the increase in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures was concentrated in the last three quarters of 2003 (Figure A.7c), it is very likely to be the result of the coming into force of the YCJA and not the continuation of a pre-existing trend. Given the suddenness of the change, it is unlikely to reflect an increase in the level of actual youth crime – we cannot believe that potential young offenders would have reacted so quickly to this change in legislation. However, we cannot tell from these data to what extent this increase in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures in Saskatchewan reflects an increase in the actual use by police extrajudicial measures (i.e. net-widening), or in the recording of the use of extrajudicial measures.

In the Northwest Territories (including Nunavut), unlike every other jurisdiction in Canada, the rate of young persons charged increased in 2003, as did the rates of youth receiving extrajudicial measures and the overall rate of chargeable youth (Figures A.11a and A.11f). Both of these increases appear to be the continuation of trends beginning in 2001. Since the rate of chargeable young persons has been increasing faster than the rate of young persons charged, the proportion of chargeable young persons who were charged has been decreasing since 2001 (Figure A.11d). Although there was a decrease in the second quarter of 2003 in rate and proportion of young persons charged, there was none in the third and fourth quarters (Figures A.11b and A.11e). In general, any changes occurring in 2003 appear to be simply continuations of pre-existing trends which predate the coming into force of YCJA, and there is no evidence from these data that the YCJA has had an impact on police charging practices in the Northwest Territories.


  • [32] Although Nunavut came into existence as a separate territory in 1999, it is combined in this report with the Northwest Territories for analyses of the period 1986 to 2003, in order to maintain a consistent time series from 1986.
  • [33] When Toronto is omitted from the data, the decreases in 2003 in charging in Ontario are 26% from 2002 and 33% from the average level for 1986-2002 (see Section 2.3 above for the reason for omitting Toronto ).
  • [34] When Toronto is omitted, the decreases in charging in Ontario in the last three quarters of 2003, compared with the corresponding quarters of 2002, are 34%, 33%, and 27% respectively, resulting in an overall decrease in the last three quarters of 2003 of 31%.
  • [35] If Toronto is excluded from the Ontario data, the quarterly increases are 89%, 75%, and 75%, with an overall increase in the last three quarters of 2003 of 80%.
  • [36] The absolute and relative decreases are 20% and 30% respectively, if Toronto is omitted from the Ontario data (see Section 2.3 above).
  • [37] The absolute and relative decreases in the last three quarters of 2003 are 23% and 35% if Toronto is omitted from the Ontario data.
  • [38] The increase is 5% if Toronto is omitted from the data (see Section 2.3 above).
  • [39] New Brunswick (like Quebec and British Columbia ) is a “Crown screening” province, in which the decision whether to lay charges against young persons is made by the Crown, after receiving a recommendation to charge from the police. In New Brunswick (and parts of Quebec; see below), if the Crown decides there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a charge, the police revise their records to take into account the recommendation of the Crown (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004: 79). Therefore, data on rates of youth charged and not charged in New Brunswick reflect decision-making by both the police and the Crown.
  • [40] See Table 1 (above) and Figures A.10, A.6, A.4, and A.8 in the Appendix. Note that the scales differ in these charts, in order to accommodate differing levels of chargeable youth.
  • [41] Although British Columbia is a Crown screening province, police do not revise the data which they submit to the UCR Survey to reflect charging decisions by the Crown; thus, the UCR “charged” data for British Columbia reflect police recommendations to charge rather than young persons actually charged (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004: 79).
  • [42] The proportion of chargeable youth who were charged (actually, recommended for charging) in British Columbia was also the lowest, on average, of any province or territory from 1986 to 2001. See Table A.2 in the Appendix.
  • [43] See Figures A.1 and A.2 in the Appendix.
  • [44] Compared to 2002, the rates of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures increased by 54% in Newfoundland and by 72% in P.E.I.; see Figures A.1a and A.2a in the Appendix.
  • [45]Like New Brunswick and British Columbia, Quebec is a “Crown screening” province, in which a charge is not laid against a young person unless the police recommendation to charge has been approved by a Crown. Police services in Quebec vary in the way they report recommendations to charge which are not accepted by the Crown: the Sûrete du Québec (like police in New Brunswick) does not include rejected recommendations to charge in the numbers of youth charged reported to the UCR, but the other police services in Quebec do include these (like police services in British Columbia). Thus, UCR data on youth charged in Quebec reflect decision-making by both police and Crown (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004: 79).

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