Public Perception of Crime and Justice in Canada: A Review of Opinion Polls

6. Youth Criminal Justice Act

6. Youth Criminal Justice Act

In April of 1999, an Environics poll was conducted to explore public reaction to the proposed Youth Criminal Justice Act. The results indicate a majority of Canadians support many of the provisions. However, many Canadians polled feel that the legislation does not go far enough. A National Gallup Poll conducted in April 2000 revealed similar results.

6.1 The legislation

When asked if, overall, the legislation goes too far, not far enough or is about right in dealing with youths who commit crime, a plurality of 48% of Canadians polled say that it does not go far enough. Conversely, 40% say it is about right and five percent think that the proposed act goes too far.

A strong majority (94%) supports the creation of a new category for repeat violent young offenders, who would be subject to adult penalties. Seventy-five percent of respondents strongly approve of such a provision, and 5% disapprove.

6.2 Sentencing

Sentencing young people convicted of a non-violent offence to community service-like orders instead of jail was supported by 92% of respondents. Seventy-two percent strongly approve and seven percent disapprove.

A substantial number (85%) favour making young offenders or their parents pay for legal counsel and 61% of those in favour strongly approve.

A final provision that Canadians supported deals with sentencing youths 14 years and older as adults. There was strong support for this provision (74%), however support was not as strong as for other provisions. Fifty-eight percent strongly approve of this provision, and 24% disapprove.

There is also considerable support for allowing the publication of names of youth sentenced for serious crimes. Eighty percent overall of those polled are in favour, with 64% being strongly in favour. Only 18% disapprove.

6.3 Age of offender

When asked specifically for the age at which a person charged with a serious crime should be tried in adult court, forty one percent of respondents mention an age below 15 years. Of these, 20% suggest 14 years of age, 10% suggest 12 years of age and only one percent suggests less than 10 years of age. Conversely, another 41% suggest an age above 16 years, with 28% of respondents suggesting 16 years of age specifically. Only one percent suggests an age above 18 years. Ten percent are of the opinion that anyone charged with a serious crime should be tried in adult court, regardless of age.

A National Gallup Poll conducted in 2000 asked Canadians about their views on the suggested changes to the Young Offenders Act. The overwhelming majority (88%) of Canadians supports a strict Young Offenders Act, which would allow an offender to be tried as an adult at age 14, as opposed to the previous 16 years of age. This change applies to offenders aged 14-16 and charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or those offenders that fit in the new category of repeat violent offender.

A majority of Canadians (86%) are also supportive of changes that would increase the maximum sentence for young offenders convicted of first degree murder from 10 years to 25 years. Thirteen percent (13%) of respondents disapprove of such a change, and 1% are of no opinion.

Support for a lifetime criminal record for violent young offenders is slightly less popular, although a considerable majority (77%) approves. Twenty-two percent disapprove of a provision of this nature. An equal percentage of Canadians (77%) believe that young offenders' names should be published if they are convicted of a serious crime, contrary to the anonymity that the Act currently provides. Again, 22% disapprove of such a provision and 1% hold no opinion.

Canadians are also supportive of parents of young offenders having more responsibility with respect to crimes committed by their children, however such support does not extend to parents serving jail time for their children's offending. Three quarters of Canadians polled are of the opinion that parents who are able to pay should be responsible for legal fees, and not the province. Twenty three percent (23%) disapprove of the provision. There is substantially less support (36%) for parents serving jail time of up to two years if children in their care re-offend. The majority (61%) disapproves.

6.4 Native justice system

A majority of Canadians view a separate Native Justice system as a good development, according to a 1998 Environics survey. Fifty-six percent of those polled, compared with 51% in 1994, support a separate system. The current result is higher than the initial proportion of 53% in 1988 who were supportive. The rate has been stable, and was at an all time low in 1990, possibly as a result of the Oka crisis that occurred at that time. The proportion of those who view it as a bad development has declined from 40% in 1994 to 34% in 1998.

6.5 Section summary

Canadians are supportive of issues relating to gun control, as well as separate justice systems for young offenders and natives.

With respect to gun control, the majority of Canadians do not believe that the general public should be allowed to own guns, with the exception of sport hunters and shooters. The level of support for such prohibitions, as well as for gun registries has fluctuated over the years, but continues to remain relatively high.

Support for a separate youth justice system also remains strong, although many Canadians feel that the legislation does not go far enough. There appears to be support for instilling more accountability for both young offenders and their parents. Canadians are in favour of having youth perform community service work, in lieu of some form of incarceration. A large majority of Canadians also favours having parents of young offenders pay for their children's crimes. At the same time, a substantial proportion of the public is in favour of lowering the minimum age at which one can be tried in adult court to 14 years of age and under.

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