POLICING AND JUVENILES
The YCJA has provisions that are intended to encourage police to consider diverting juveniles to a range of “extrajudicial measures,” including simply warning a youth not to reoffend through to referral to a community-based program that may require compensation to a victim or counseling, but does not result in a youth record. The impact of the YCJA on the use by police of charges is indicated by trends in the percentage of youth who were charged (Fig. 5.3). Prior to 2003, this indicator declined slowly from a high of 69 % in 1990 to 57 % in 2002. In 2003, when the YCJA came into force, this indictor fell by approximately one- fifth to 45 %, with the result that the number of youth dealt with by extrajudicial measures exceeded the number charged for the first time since youth justice statistics were collected in Canada. Since 2003, it has been relatively constant and
Figure 5.3. Trends in police charging of apprehended youth in Canada, 2004-2014. Note: Prepared by the authors using data from CANSIM Table 252-0051 (Statistics Canada 2015b).
remained at 45 % in 2014. A more detailed analysis up to 2007 is in Bala et al. (2009).
The YCJA constrains questioning by the police of young persons suspected of offenses. Section 146 of the YCJA provides that a statement made by a youth being questioned by the police is admissible only if the youth has received an explanation “in language appropriate to his or her age and understanding.” Further, a youth is not obliged to make a statement and has right to have a lawyer or parent present while a statement is made; any waiver of these rights must be in a signed statement or video-recorded waiver. The Supreme Court has made clear that it is not sufficient for a police officer to merely “read a youth his rights” from a form, but rather the police must provide an explanation that takes account of the youth’s age and cognitive conditions, including learning disabilities. In its 2008 decision in R. v. L.T.H., the Supreme Court of Canada emphasized the importance of the protection against improper questioning of youth suspects by police (R v L.T.H. 2008, at para 21-24):
Young persons, even more than adults, are inclined to feel vulnerable when questioned by police officers who suspect them of crime and can influence their fate. Parliament has for that reason provided them by statute with a complementary set of enhanced procedural safeguards... procedural and evidentiary safeguards available to adults do not adequately protect young persons, who are presumed on account of their age and relative unsophistication to be more vulnerable than adults to suggestion, pressure and influence in the hands of police interrogators.
Despite these protections, in practice, youth interrogated by police often fail to appreciate the significance of their legal rights and make statements that implicate them in the offense, almost always waiving the right to advice from counsel or parents.