Juvenile Delinquents Act

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The Juvenile Delinquents Act was a law passed in 1908 by the Canadian government to improve its handling of juvenile crime. The act established procedures for the handling of juvenile offenses, including the government assuming control of juvenile offenders. It was revised in 1929 and superseded in 1984 by the Young Offenders Act.

For most of its history, Canada's legal system has treated young people and adults differently. Under English common law, children between the ages of seven and thirteen were usually not charged for criminal offenses. It was believed they could not understand the seriousness of their actions. If it could be proved that a child could form criminal intent, he or she would be charged and tried in the same courts as adults. Children 14 or older were tried in adult courts and were subject to the same penalties as adults: hanging, whipping, or imprisonment. Children and teenagers were forced to serve their sentences alongside adult offenders in typically filthy, over-crowded prisons.

In 1892, Canada changed the Criminal Code so that children were tried privately and separately from adults. Special laws, child welfare agencies, and a separate justice system were developed. In 1908, the federal government passed the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The age definition of a "juvenile" varied; most provinces set it between the ages of 12 and 16. but children as young as seven were charged and tried under this act.

The objective of the Juvenile Delinquents Act was to rehabilitate and reform—not to punish. Young people who broke the law were "delinquents," not criminals. They were viewed as victims of poverty, abuse, and neglect. Their parents had failed to raise them well, it was reasoned, so the state assumed custody of the child.

Prior to the 1929 revisions of the Act, poverty and gender shaped the definition of delinquency with class stereotypes mitigating against the persecution of wealthier children. Judges regularly saw working-class girls who rebelled as "delinquent" and in need of proper socialization at an industrial school, while middle class girls were more likely to be described as "emotionally unstable" and in need of increased support.[1]

Gender stereotypes, by contrast, ensured that girls were charged for sexual behaviours and expressions considered "non-delinquent" in the male world. Court officials frequently asked girls charged with petty crime (like theft) to describe their sexual experiences. Sexual knowledge or experience often confirmed "delinquency" -- a gross misunderstanding. Court officials also prescribed curatives reflective of their sex-related concerns. With state support, "delinquent" girls were to become "proper" women by adopting feminine mores during their probationary period.

Juveniles seldom had lawyers in court. Judges, police and probation officers could impose whatever sentence they thought best for the youth. Because there were no formal guidelines, sentences ranged from incredibly harsh to extremely lenient. The definition of "delinquency" was so broad that youths could be charged for breaking minor laws, including truancy, coming home late, or loitering.

However girls were also able to use the court to speak back to authority, using them to permit alternative sexuality by engaging in premarital sex and justifying it through the intent to marry their partners and speak out against domestic abuse.[2]

If found to be delinquent, juveniles could be sent indefinitely to correctional or training institutions. Staff decided when the delinquent was rehabilitated and could be released. While English-speaking girls who displayed passive or acquiescent behaviour may be released as "transformed," Sangster has suggested that First Nations girls were less likely to receive approval for "reformed" behaviour. State officials were most likely to view acquiescence as "withdrawal," keeping First Nations girls in the system longer under the assumption that they would not internalize "proper" feminine mores.

There was no Charter to protect a juvenile's rights, and no right to a lawyer. Problems with the Act led to demands for changes, and it was revised in 1929. In 1984, the Young Offenders Act replaced the Juvenile Delinquents Act.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sangster J (2002). Girl Trouble: Female Delinquency in English Canada. Between the Lines Press. ISBN 1-896357-58-X. 
  2. ^ Myers T (2006). Caught: Montreal's Modern Girls and the Law, 1869 - 1945. University of Toronto Press. p. 187. ISBN 0-8020-9219-5. 


Here is a link to website of the JDA: http://www.lawyers.ca/ycja/jda.htm