A National Survey of Youth Justice Committees in Canada

1. Introduction

Section 69 of the Young Offenders Act (YOA), which was the governing federal legislation in the area of youth justice in Canada until March 31st, 2003, stated:

The Attorney General of a province or such other Minister as the Lieutenant Governor in Council of the province may designate, or a delegate thereof, may establish one or more committees of citizens, to be known as youth justice committees, to assist without remuneration in any aspect of the administration of this Act or in any programs or services for young offenders and may specify the method of appointment of committee members and the functions of the committees.

Under the YOA, youth justice committees (YJCs) were viewed as bodies of citizens, acting as volunteers, who could be officially recognized and sanctioned by the provincial government and have potentially wide-ranging functions in the youth justice area.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), which replaced the YOA on April 1, 2003, contains an analogous provision, with two important differences. First, the phrase “without remuneration” is eliminated. Second, some of the functions, which YJCs may become involved in, are specified.

The present study was intended to provide a snapshot of those YJCs officially designated under section 69 of the YOA in Canada during the transition to the YCJA. Specifically, this study assesses the use of these committees in various parts of Canada and identified key characteristics of YJCs and issues that were prevalent during this transitional period.

2. Method

With the assistance of the Department of Justice Canada, key officials in the provinces and territories were contacted to obtain permission to interview designated YJC representatives, and to gather pertinent operational information from the province or territory. Policy manuals or guidelines governing the YJC program in each jurisdiction were also requested.

In most jurisdictions, detailed contact information (the designated YJC representative, mailing address, fax number, and telephone numbers) was provided to the research team. In such instances, each YJC was contacted by all available methods until it became clear that no response would be received. In one instance, a member of the research team travelled to a training session for YJC members in order to observe the training and interview YJC members in person. A few other interviews with YJC members were conducted in person, but in most instances, interviews were conducted via telephone.

In other jurisdictions, officials were sensitive to the desire of some YJC members not to be subject to excessive interviewing. In these cases, the research team was provided with mailing addresses, or the appropriate government officials contacted the YJC chairpersons, and gave them the option of contacting the research team.

Basic information about the composition, governance and operations of the committee was sought from all YJC members. All committees were given the option of completing a short written form and returning it to the research team, speaking to a member of the research team by telephone, and/or submitting to a longer interview. For the small number of YJCs who expressed a willingness to undergo a lengthy interview, more in-depth questions were posed relating to sustainability and other issues. A copy of the basic and longer interview schedules is attached in Appendix A.

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