In Canada, teens can be held responsible for crimes they commit as of age 12. This does not mean they will end up in jail. The youth criminal system tries as much as possible to avoid putting teens through a criminal court trial.
If your minor child was caught by the police and is suspected of committing a crime, read this article. You will learn what the law says.
Return to the Community
The law treats teens suspected of crimes differently than adults. They must still pay for their actions but not in the same way as adults. The law encourages teens suspected of crimes to go back to the community. The law also tries to avoid putting them through a full criminal court case. But in some situations, a teen might have to go to court.
Steps After Being Caught by Police
What happens after teens are caught by the police depends on their situations and the seriousness of the crimes they are accused of.
Parents have an important role in supporting their children throughout the process. To learn more, read our articles Your Child, the Police and You and Going to Court With Your Child.
Police Take Extrajudicial Measures
In some cases, the police can decide to do nothing or give the teen a warning. They can also refer the teen to a community organization called an Organisme de justice alternative or OJA (alternative justice organization). In this case, a worker from the OJA will contact the parents to set up a meeting with them.
These actions taken by the police are called extrajudicial measures. To learn more, read the article in our Youth Zone Extrajudicial Measures: The Police Decide.
No matter what the police decide to do, they will tell the parents.
Extrajudicial measures help teens avoid a full criminal court case. The police decide whether to apply an extrajudicial measure. They record what happened in a database, and the information is available to all police forces for two years.
The Teen Gets an Extrajudicial Sanction
The police can decide not to apply an extrajudicial measure. Instead, they can send the case to the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney. This is the government lawyer who brings criminal cases to court against people accused of crimes. This lawyer is also called the Crown prosecutor or simply the prosecutor.
The prosecutor can do any of these things:
- close the case (for example, if there is not enough evidence)
- file charges against the teen (formally accuse the teen of a crime)
- send the case to a youth worker
Youth workers work in youth centres. They decide whether teens suspected of committing a crime can get extrajudicial sanctions. They also try to meet with the parents.
Extrajudicial sanctions are ways to hold teens responsible for their crimes without putting them through a criminal court case. These are examples of extrajudicial sanctions:
- repairing the harm done to the victim by taking part in mediation or by writing a letter of apology
- answering to the community by doing community work
- taking part in a program that encourages teens to think about what they have done and the harm they have caused
To learn more, read the article in our Youth Zone Extrajudicial Sanctions: Instead of a Trial.
The Teen Must Appear in Youth Court
Sometimes a teen must appear before a judge in youth court. In this case, the teen will receive a document, either in person or by mail. The document is called an undertaking, an appearance notice or a summons. The parents usually receive a copy as well. This document gives the date and time the teen must go to court. It also states the crime or crimes the teen is accused of.
Important! Most teens qualify for legal aid. Contact your local legal aid office to learn more and get advice from a lawyer.
The appearance is the first step in a criminal court case. This is when a person accused of a crime must plead guilty or not guilty. If the person pleads guilty, the judge will order a sentence (punishment). If the person pleads not guilty, there will be a criminal court case.
After the appearance, teens might still qualify for an extrajudicial sanction. In this situation, they will not have to go through the rest of the criminal court process.