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

3.0 Findings (continued)

3.4 Substantial reductions in charging in incidents involving less serious offences; small reductions in incidents involving more serious offences

Table 2 summarizes the changes in 2003 in the per capita rates of young persons charged and chargeable in incidents involving different types of offences. In general, the results are as one would expect from the provisions of the YCJA: substantial reductions in charging in incidents involving less serious offences, and small reductions in charging in incidents involving more serious offences. Contrary to expectations, there was only a very small reduction in charging in incidents involving offences against the administration of justice; that is, bail violations (including failure to appear for court), and violations of probation conditions.

In this section, we examine trends in charging for each major category of offence separately. In the UCR Survey, youth who are apprehended or charged are classified under the most serious alleged offence in the incident. For example, a youth who was apprehended or charged in connection with an incident allegedly involving a break and enter and a violation of a probation condition would be counted in the UCR Survey only under the more serious offence of break and enter. Thus, the data understate the rates of youth involved in less serious offences. However, this does not affect the present analysis of changes in charging in 2003, since the understatement of rates of less serious offences is consistent over the period of years which are being analyzed.

Table 2. Changes from 2002 to 2003 in annual rates of young persons charged and chargeable, by major offence category, Canada

Offence categories for which there is evidence of a reduction in charging due to the YCJA
  Change in rate of youth charged Change in rate of chargeable youth Conclusion
Drugs - 35% - 8% Very large reduction in charging; may be partly due to the Cannabis Reform Bill
Theft under - 34% + 6% Very large reduction in charging; also possibly a small increase in the use, or recording, by police of extrajudicial measures
Mischief under - 22% + 16% Large reduction in charging; also evidence of increased use, or recording, by police, of extrajudicial measures
Assault level 1 - 19% + 4% Large reduction in charging
Possess stolen property - 13% + 2% Reduction in charging
Other Criminal Code (victimless) - 12% + 7% Reduction in charging; also possibly a small increase in the use, or recording, by police of extrajudicial measures

Offence categories for which the evidence is equivocal
  Change in rate of youth charged Change in rate of chargeable youth Conclusion
Indictable property - 5% + 2% Small reduction in charging; may be a continuation of a pre-existing trend
Against the person (except Assault level 1) - 3% + 2% Very small reduction in charging; may be a continuation of a pre-existing trend
Bail violations and fail to appear - 2% + 1% Very small reduction in charging; may be a continuation of a pre-existing trend
Fraud - 19% - 2% Large reduction in charging; may be a continuation of a pre-existing trend
Probation violations - 13% - 1% Reduction from 2002, but no change in charging from 1999-2001

Source: Appendix Tables A.3 and A.6.

Figure 13 (below) shows the rates of young persons who were charged, chargeable, and dealt with by extrajudicial measures, in incidents in which the most serious alleged offence was drug-related. [46] There was a very large reduction in charging (35%), from 338 per 100,000 in 2002 to 219 per 100,000 in 2003. There was a slightly smaller increase in the recorded rate of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures (Figure 13a), so that the total recorded rate of youth chargeable for drug-related offences decreased by 8% (Figure 13b). The reduction in charging was substantial in all four quarters of 2003, but larger in the last three quarters (Figure 13c). The increase in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures occurred only in the second and last quarters (Figure 13d). [47]

Figure 13. Rates of young persons charged, not charged (extrajudicial measures), and chargeable, drug-related offences, Canada, 1986-2003

The Cannabis Reform Bill (see Health Canada, 2003) was introduced in Parliament in May, 2003, but was not passed. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2004: 77), because of “uncertainty about the eventual outcome of proposed amendments, many police services have continued to count incidents of, but stopped laying charges for possession of small amounts of cannabis.” Since the introduction of the Bill occurred in the same quarter as the coming into force of the YCJA , we were unable to distinguish between the impact on police charging practices of the YCJA and that of the Bill.

Figure 14 shows the rates of young persons who were charged, chargeable, and dealt with by extrajudicial measures in incidents in which the most serious alleged offence was theft under. [48] There was a very large reduction in charging (34%), from 739 per 100,000 in 2002 to 486 per 100,000 in 2003 (Figure 14a), which was concentrated in the last three quarters (Figure 14c). There was a slightly larger increase in the recorded rate of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures, which was also concentrated in the last three quarters of 2003 (Figure 14d). The total recorded rate of youth chargeable for theft under increased by 6% (Figure 14b). The sudden increase in the second quarter of 2003 in the recorded rate of youth apprehended for theft under, and dealt with by extrajudicial measures (Figure 14d) is highly unlikely to be due to a sudden increase in this type of youth crime; rather, it suggests a small increase in the use, or the reporting, of extrajudicial measures.

Figure 14. Rates of young persons charged, not charged (extrajudicial measures), and chargeable, theft under, Canada, 1986-2003

Figure 15 shows the rates of young persons who were charged, chargeable, and dealt with by extrajudicial measures in incidents in which the most serious alleged offence was mischief under. [49] There was a large reduction in charging (22%), from 266 per 100,000 in 2002 to 207 per 100,000 in 2003, which was concentrated in the last three quarters (Figures 15a and 15c). There was a considerably larger increase in the recorded rate of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures (Figure 15a), also concentrated in the last three quarters (Figure 15d), so that the total recorded rate of youth chargeable for mischief under increased by 16% (Figure 15b). The sudden increase in the second quarter of 2003 in the recorded rate of youth apprehended for mischief under and dealt with by extrajudicial measures (and the sudden decrease in charging) are highly unlikely to be due to a sudden increase in this type of youth crime; rather, they suggest an increase in the use, or the reporting, of extrajudicial measures.

Figure 15. Rates of young persons charged, not charged (extrajudicial measures), and chargeable, mischief under, Canada, 1986-2003

Figures 16 to 18 show the same information for incidents in which the most serious alleged offence was assault level 1 (common assault), possession of stolen property, and other Criminal Code (victimless) offences. [50] In each case, there were large reductions in charging and corresponding increases in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures, concentrated in the last three quarters of 2003; and little or no increase in the recorded rates of chargeable young persons. Although the rate of youth charged for other Criminal Code offences declined in 2002, the large increase in 2003 in the recorded use of extrajudicial measures, and the concentration of the changes in the last three quarters, suggest that the changes were in response to the YCJA, and not the continuation of a pre-existing trend. It is noteworthy that although assault level 1 is usually classified as a “violent” crime, police appear to have responded to the provisions of the YCJA by dealing with this offence in a similar manner to drug-related, minor property, and victimless offences.

Figure 16. Rates of young persons charged, not charged (extrajudicial measures), and chargeable, assault level 1, Canada, 1986-2003


  • [46] Drug-related offences include offences under the Narcotics Control Act, the Food and Drugs Act, and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
  • [47] The lower rates of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures in the third quarter (of all three years) may be due to the summer school vacation, during which young persons are not at risk of being caught with drugs by school staff.
  • [48] The threshold value which determines whether a theft is theft under or theft over was $1,000 from 1986 to 1994, and $5,000 thereafter.
  • [49] The threshold value which determines whether mischief is mischief under or mischief over was $1,000 from 1986 to 1994, and $5,000 thereafter.
  • [50] For a list of the main offences grouped here as “other Criminal Code (victimless)”, see the Notes to Table A.3 in the Appendix.

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