A National Survey of Youth Justice Committees in Canada
- 3.1 Number of Designated YJCs in Canada
- 3.2 Characteristics of YJCs
3.1 Number of Designated YJCs in Canada
This study identified a wide variance in the numbers of YJCs across Canada. Table 1 provides the numbers of active YJCs designated under section 69 of the YOA (N=262) and the number of YJCs that agreed to provide information on their operations (n=113).
Some jurisdictions, such as Newfoundland and Alberta, have a large number of YJCs. designated. However, Yukon and Quebec have established committees that perform the same function but are not officially designated. Further, some jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan and British Columbia have adopted a hybrid approach designating some committees and leaving others undesignated. Finally, jurisdictions such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island do not have any functioning committees.
|Yukon||0||0||Yukon has 9 active Community Justice Committees, which are not designated.|
|Nunavut||24||6||All existing YJCs are designated.|
|Northwest Territories||23||15||All existing YJCs are designated.|
|British Columbia||2||2||British Columbia has 81 Community Accountability Programs and 8 Youth and Family Court Committees, which are not designated.|
|Alberta||98||22||All existing YJCs are designated.|
|Saskatchewan||4||3||Saskatchewan has 50 Aboriginal initiatives that are similar to YJCs, which are not designated.|
|Manitoba||57||28||Manitoba has Aboriginal committees under the umbrella of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak organization, which are not designated.|
|Ontario||22||20||All existing YJCs are designated.|
|Quebec||0||0||None of the existing YJCs are designated.|
|New Brunswick||0||0||No YJCs exist.|
|Nova Scotia||0||0||No YJCs exist.|
|PEI||0||0||No YJCs exist.|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||32||17||All existing YJCs are designated.|
1. Newly created committees in the beginning stages of operation were included in the above counts while those that were inactive or disbanded were excluded.
The reasons for the difference in designation across jurisdictions are many and varied. Some jurisdictions have chosen to designate all YJCs out of a perceived need to hold YJCs to certain standards of appointment, training and operation. Since YJCs perform functions that have important implications for individual youths, these jurisdictions focus on the need to ensure, as much as possible, that decisions will be made in a fair, consistent and responsible fashion. In other jurisdictions, the rationale for designation is to legitimize the YJC in the eyes of members of the community. This rationale was seen as especially significant to some isolated Aboriginal and Inuit communities, where, without the recognition and authority conferred by the youth criminal justice system, YJCs would have their activities questioned by youth, parents, justice system officials, and community members.
In other jurisdictions, the reverse rationale was found. That is, designation would be contrary to the goal of creating as much flexibility and leeway as possible for local initiatives to flourish, particularly in Aboriginal communities. Mainstream approaches are often seen as having failed to meet the needs of the community and thus achieve true legitimacy in the eyes of its members. Indeed, certain committees have expressed a reluctance to be designated, preferring instead to have a more arm's-length relationship with the provincial or territorial government, while actively liaising with local justice system officials.
The second major finding from the inventory is that there is also wide variance in many of the characteristics and operations of YJCs across the country. The elements that are common to YJCs are far outnumbered by the elements that vary. This undoubtedly reflects the intention to provide a strong measure of flexibility in how such programs operate and respond to the characteristics and needs of their community and their youth.
Under the YOA, the primary function of YJCs was to deal referrals from Alternative Measures Programs in the provinces and territories.
All designated YJCs meet certain standards of membership and operations:
- Screening of Members
- Nominees to committees are screened by provincial or territorial officials and are subject to approval and to a criminal records check.
- Community Representation
- YJCs operate as committees of “ordinary citizens” who volunteer to reflect and represent the communities in which they serve. There is, however, some variance among committees in the extent to which they try to recruit at least a proportion of volunteer members who have some specialized training and/or experience in dealing with troubled youth.
- Training is provided to YJC volunteers through or directly by supporting governmental officials, either centrally or locally.
- Notification of Rights
- YJCs advise youth and parents of their legal rights, including the right to be advised by counsel and to decline to participate in the YJC process and proceed instead through the normal charging and court processes.
There are significant variations across the eight jurisdictions with designated YJCs:
- Number of Volunteers
- The number of volunteers participating in YJCs varies across the 113 committees for which detailed information was obtained, ranging from a low of 3 to a high of 96. The median volunteer complement in the jurisdictions with more than two designated committees, displayed in Figure 1, varied from a low of seven to a high of 18 among YJCs contacted. In some communities, recruiting and maintaining a sufficient number of volunteers is a major undertaking, while in others there is a waiting list of interested citizens. Large committees present some challenges to organizers, including keeping all volunteers active and current, and ensuring some measure of consistency in operations. Small committees also present a unique set of challenges, such as the possibility of placing too heavy a burden on volunteers. Some interviewees suggested that an ideal frequency of use of volunteers may be one hearing every two weeks.
- Paid Volunteers
- Although committee volunteers serve without remuneration in most jurisdictions, an honorarium of $50 to $75 per meeting is paid to committee members in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
- Provincial, Territorial and Municipal Funding Guidelines
- Funding provided by provincial or territorial governments to YJCs also vary enormously. In some jurisdictions funding is based on volunteer recognition and reimbursement of minor out-of-pocket expenses, while in others it is based on the perceived need to fund (inter alia) paid positions in support of volunteer efforts. In still others, funding is based on a complex formula taking into account various factors including caseload. In Saskatchewan no provincial funding is provided. Whereas in British Columbia, both committees that are currently designated are funded by one or more municipality, as described in Section 2, below. The guidelines for provincial, territorial and (in British Columbia) municipal funding are set out in Table 2.
TABLE 2 : GUIDELINES ESTABLISHED BY GOVERNMENTS FOR FUNDING TO YJCS Jurisdiction Annual Funding per Committee Comments Nunavut $10,000 to $34,000 Precise amounts depend on community size and need. Northwest Territories $33,000 to $57,000 Precise amounts depend on community size - overall budget includes $20,000 for coordinator position in most communities. British Columbia $2,000 to $60,000 There are only two designated YJCs - one receives $2,000 and the second committee receives $60,000. Alberta $500 to $55,000 Funding depends on size of committee, caseload, and other factors. Saskatchewan -- No funding is provided. Manitoba $200 to $1,200 Basic $200 is automatic - YJCs are required to apply for additional funds. Ontario $28,000 Funding is uniform for all YJCs - in the first year of operation , YJCs receive $25,000 as a start-up and $15,000 for operations. Newfoundland and Labrador $800 Basic $800 is automatic - an additional $10 per case is provided to YJCs.
1. Yukon, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island do not have designated YJCs.
- Annual Budgets
The median annual budgets (from all sources, including charitable fundraising) of YJCs in each province/territory are provided in Figure 2. British Columbia is excluded from the table as it has only two designated committees. Some YJCs have access to matching federal funding. In all jurisdictions, YJCs are free to raise funds from other sources, such as charitable events.
- Number of Referrals Annually
There is also variance in the number of referrals annually to YJCs across the country, ranging from only two or three per year to over 200. The reasons for the variance can be traced to numerous factors, including community size, eligibility criteria, and relationships with referral agencies such as police and Crown prosecutors. Figure 3 identifies the median number of referrals annually. British Columbia is excluded as the two designated committees do not deal with referrals of individual youth cases and; Saskatchewan is excluded as the YJCs were too new to estimate numbers.
A rough concordance is seen between median annual budgets and the median number of annual referrals seen in each jurisdiction, except in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut where the higher budgets are accounted for by the presence of paid volunteers.
- Host Agency
Some YJCs, especially in Ontario and in larger municipalities, operate under the umbrella of a “ host agency ”, such as a local society for drug and alcohol programs or offender rehabilitation, which supports and coordinates the work of the volunteers. Others have no such “ host ”, although they may receive in-kind assistance from local government offices or First Nations councils. Having a host agency can be an enormous benefit to a YJC, providing stability, support and justice experience that relieves volunteers of administrative burdens and ensures a measure of continuity in operations. Figure 4 identifies the percentage of contacted YJCs which have a private agency as their administrative “ home ”.
- Paid Coordinators
Some YJCs have a paid position - full-time or part-time - to support the work of the volunteers. In larger communities with high caseloads, the paid worker relieves volunteers of significant workloads. Where no (or limited) funds are available to support such a position, the host agency may donate this service as part of its contribution to the program. Figure 5 identifies the percentage of contacted YJCs who have a paid full-time or part-time coordinator.
- Steering Committee
- Some YJCs have a steering or advisory committee, made up of local citizens, justice officials, or both. Ontario makes such a committee mandatory. Other YJCs have no advisory committee, although they may turn to local probation or other officials for advice and advocacy.
- Referral Stage
- YJCs receive referrals at various stages of the youth justice process. In all jurisdictions except British Columbia, most YJCs reported receiving referrals at both the pre-charge and post-charge stages, but a few reported receiving referrals at only one entry point. The stage at which referrals are received appears to be dependent on local arrangements and the preferences of local youth justice officials. In Alberta, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, referrals at the post-conviction stage (e.g., at sentencing circles) or the post-sentencing stage are also relatively common. Only British Columbia's CAP committees (which are not currently designated) may receive referrals only from police at the pre-charge stage.
- Eligible Offences and Offenders
- Various provinces and territories place limitations on the type of offences that are eligible for referral to the YJC process. In some provinces, such as Ontario, these limitations are fairly tight, barring, for example, even minor assaults, while in other provinces, such as Alberta, the limitations are less restrictive, with maximum discretion left both to local probation officials and to YJCs to screen out or refuse individual cases on the merits. Ontario limits the program to first-time offenders only.
- Victim Participation
Most YJCs routinely invite victims to attend the hearings under the YJC process. Figure 6 identifies the percentage of YJCs contacted who indicated that they routinely invite victims to the hearing (YJCs who indicated that victims are “ sometimes ” invited to attend are not included in Figure 6, nor are “ occasional ” or “ frequent but not routine ” invitations to victims included).
Actual victim attendance at YJC hearings is not a function of the invitation process. Although a handful of YJCs indicated that they consider victim attendance mandatory and will not continue the process without the victim, many others indicated that for various reasons, victim participation and attendance is not as common as many would consider desirable. This is perhaps primarily due to the prevalence of “ victimless ” crime (such as alcohol offences) and shoplifting against major corporations, which do not routinely send a representative, nor in many cases even endorse the diversionary process. YJCs were asked to indicate the frequency with which victims actually attend hearings (
“ all the time or almost all the time; a lot; sometimes; or never ”). Figure 7 identifies the percentage of YJCs contacted who indicated that victims attend either “ a lot ”, “ all the time ”, or “ almost all the time ”.
- Other Roles
Beyond making decisions in individual cases some YJCs currently perform other functions, including providing advice to justice officials, planning and conducting crime prevention and public education programs, and conducting mediation between offenders and victims.
Figure 8 identifies the percentage of all YJCs contacted who indicated that they perform certain roles in respect to the individual youth cases they handle. The roles most frequently undertaken appear to be those which are most integral to the case decision process itself, such as following up on the completion of measures, and assisting youth in finding community service placements and other community resources which may be required as part of the settlement of the case.
The lesser involvement in certain other roles may be connected to the less serious nature of most of the offences and the perception that the offences, and the needs of the youth involved, do not justify certain types or levels of intervention. Mediation and family group conferencing, in particular, often require greater initial time investment than routine YJC hearings. Following the hearing, activities such as mentoring youth and assisting with school-related issues may be seen as too interventionist - or even inappropriate. The lack of additional resources in some communities, especially isolated and smaller ones, may also be a factor. In Northern and rural areas particularly, some YJCs indicated that opportunities for youth to receive additional help were limited if not entirely missing; some YJC contacts suggested that the YJC may in fact be the only resource strictly for youth in the community.
Figure 9 identifies the percentage of all YJCs contacted who indicated that they perform certain other roles - unrelated or less directly related to making individual case decisions - anticipated under the new YCJA. In British Columbia, the only two designated committees perform only roles that are related to assessing the community's resources regarding families and children.
Only a third or fewer of the YJCs contacted were, at the time of the survey, undertaking most of these additional roles. There were several reasons offered that may explain this lack of activity. First, many of the YJCs contacted are still finding their way in a new area, and sticking to basics for now. Second, in larger communities, these additional roles may already be undertaken by other organizations or agencies. Third, YJCs which are already using their volunteer resources to their limit may not have the time to take on roles which are seen as peripheral, or YJC members may believe that they do not have the expertise to conduct them properly. Fourth, many of these additional roles are dependent on the creation of the opportunity for them, which lie outside the direct control of YJCs. Advice to youth courts and other youth justice representatives, and assistance to victims are among these. As noted earlier, many of the incidents addressed by YJCs involve no identifiable victim, or a victim which is a large corporation uninterested in the YJC process.
The more in-depth interviews conducted suggest that in general, there was support for YJCs to take on roles in the future which go beyond considering the appropriate measures in individual cases of youthful offending. It seems likely that as programs mature, they will undertake more of these additional roles under the YCJA.
- In Alberta and Saskatchewan, cases requiring mediation are not referred to YJCs unless the YJC can turn the case over to members who are trained facilitators. This is in recognition of the specialized skills required to mediate well. Indeed, a number of interviewees in other jurisdictions expressed some concern about untrained and inexperienced persons attempting to conduct mediation or other “restorative” processes which require specific skills and sensitive handling.
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