The 2008 National Justice Survey: The Youth Justice System in Canada and the Youth Criminal Justice Act

1. Introduction

Youth crime in Canada has been the focus of intense public scrutiny and political attention for decades. The legislation governing the youth criminal justice system has been changed and amended numerous times since the 1980s. Most recently, in February 2002, the House of Commons passed Bill C-7, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) which came into force in April 2003 replacing the Young Offenders Act (YOA).

The YCJA, which set out a new legislative framework for Canada's youth justice system, was designed to build on the strengths and to address the weaknesses of the YOA. The key objectives of the YCJA included:

  • A set of clear and coherent principles to improve decision-making in the youth justice system;
  • More appropriate use of the courts by addressing less serious cases effectively outside the court process;
  • Fairness in sentencing;
  • Reduction in the high rate of youth incarceration;
  • Effective reintegration of young persons;
  • Clear distinction between serious violent offences and less serious offences.

In the fall of 2007, the Government announced the beginning of a five-year review of the YCJA including public consultations and roundtables with key stakeholders across the country. These consultations were designed to help identify areas of concern and possible improvements regarding the provisions and principles of the YCJA.  In addition to the YCJA review, the Government of Canada also introduced legislation to amend the Act to include deterrence and denunciation as principles of sentencing and to strengthen provisions related to pre-trial detention.

The Department of Justice conducts the National Justice Survey (NJS) on an annual basis to provide the Department with public opinion on current and emerging policy relevant topics.  The focus of the 2008 National Justice Survey (the 2nd cycle of this annual survey) was the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the youth criminal justice system in Canada in order to provide policy-makers with current information regarding Canadian’s perceptions of youth justice issues.  The goals of the 2008 NJS were to measure public confidence in the youth justice system, to identify viewpoints on particular responses to youth criminal behaviour and to assess perceptions of youth crime in Canada.

2. Method

The 2008 National Justice Survey used both a telephone sampling method and an on-line sampling method in order to access harder to reach populations (e.g., cellular telephone users, younger Canadians), to increase the sample size and to examine the utility of an Internet data collection method for future survey work. 

For the telephone survey, a random digit dialing survey was conducted with Canadians 16 years of age and older.  In order to randomly select a single respondent in multi-person households, the individual with the most recent birthday was selected. In total, 4,015 surveys were completed between March 17, 2008 and May 2, 2008 for a total response rate of 20%.  The results are considered valid at the national level within +/- 2%, 19 times out of 20.

The online survey was broadcast to a total of 13,500 members of TNS Canadian Facts’ Interactive panel. [1] At the close of the field work, 3,186 responses were received for a total completion rate of 24%. The broadcast occurred on March 20, 2008 and the field was closed on March 28, 2008.  Given the use of a panel method, the margin of error cannot be calculated for the Internet sample.

2.1 Sample

The provincial distributions for both samples and the provincial margins of error at the 95% confidence level for the telephone sample are summarized in Table 1.  The sample in each province was intentionally disproportionate to the provincial populations in order to ensure adequate sample sizes at a regional level for analytical purposes.

Table 1: Provincial Sampling and Margin of Error
Province Telephone Sample Internet Sample Total Sample Margin of Error
Atlantic Provinces 400 232 632 ± 5%
Quebec 909 739 1,648 ± 3%
Ontario 874 1,290 2,164 ± 3%
Manitoba 438 135 573 ± 5%
Saskatchewan 448 107 555 ± 5%
Alberta 484 217 701 ± 5%
British Columbia 462 466 928 ± 5%
TOTAL 4,015 3,186 7,201 ± 2%

The Margin of Error can only be calculated for the Telephone Sample as the Internet Sample was collected using a Panel method which is not considered random.

Weighting adjustments were applied to the final dataset in order to ensure that the data collected represents the Canada population 16 years and older.  Therefore, the analysis in this report employs the cross-sectional weighting variable created by TNS Canadian Facts.

Table 2 provides information on the demographics of both the Telephone and Internet samples as well as the overall totals for the combined sample.  In general, the samples were slightly different, which is to be expected given the different data collection method.  For example, the Internet sample was somewhat younger and more educated than the Telephone sample but had more unemployed respondents. 

Table 2: Demographics By Data Collection Method

Gender (N=7,201)
VARIABLE Telephone N (%) Internet N (%) TOTAL N (%)
Male 1,825 (46%) 1,646 (52%) 3,471 (48%)
Female 2,190 (55%) 1,540 (48%) 3,730 (52%)

Age (N=7,201)
VARIABLE Telephone N (%) Internet N (%) TOTAL N (%)
Under 25 351 ( 9%) 272 ( 9%) 623 ( 9%)
25-54 2,257 (56%) 2,154 (68%) 4,411 (61%)
55 and older 1,407 (35%) 760 (24%) 2,167 (30%)

Employment status (N=7,110)
VARIABLE Telephone N (%) Internet N (%) TOTAL N (%)
Employed 2,628 (66%) 1,872 (64%) 4,500 (65%)
Student 276 ( 7%) 209 ( 7%) 485 ( 7%)
Retired 780 (20%) 495 (17%) 1,275 (19%)
Unemployed 299 ( 8%) 354 (12%) 653 ( 10%)

Education level (N=7,110)
VARIABLE Telephone N (%) Internet N (%) TOTAL N (%)
No University 2,785 (70%) 2,017 (64%) 4,802 (67%)
University 1,199 (30%) 1,147 (36%) 2,346 (33%)

Household income level (N=6,342)
VARIABLE Telephone N (%) Internet N (%) TOTAL N (%)
Under $25,000 527 (15%) 399 (14%) 926 (15%)
$25,000 < $50,000 948 (27%) 903 (32%) 1,851 (29%)
$50,000 < $75,000 846 (24%) 707 (25%) 1,553 (25%)
$75,000 < $100,000 537 (15%) 463 (17%) 1,000 (16%)
$100,000 or more 697 (20%) 315 (11%) 1,012 (16%)
  1. Due to missing data, the total sample size for each variable may vary.
  2. Total may not equal 100% due to rounding.

[1] The panel is an opt-in voluntary process, which is necessary to ensure that sending surveys does not violate privacy or anti-spam rules. The consumer panel currently numbers about 95,000 individual Canadians from a variety of backgrounds. A database of member demographic, technographic and behavioural information is collected and subsequently used for sample selection purposes. In addition, each member record includes survey contact history in order to prevent overuse or category contamination.

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