Youths, who are between the ages of 12 and 17, and have been charged with criminal offences in Canada, are prosecuted under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). The YCJA applies to young offenders from the time they turn 12 until they turn 18. Upon reaching their 18th birthday, offenders are then prosecuted according to the laws and guidelines contained in the Criminal Code of Canada, should they commit criminal offences after turning 18.
The YCJA sets out the specific ways young offenders are treated under the law and recognizes a number of principles to differentiate them from adult offenders. Whether proceedings against a young offender are brought and filed in youth court is not based upon the age the youth is at the time they are charged or go to trial, but the date the offence was alleged to have occurred. In addition, if the young person committed a criminal offence before they turned 18, and were found guilty, the YCJA can still apply to them after they turn 18.