Juvenile Delinquents Act

The Juvenile Delinquents Act (French: Loi sur les jeunes délinquants), SC 1908, c 40 was a law passed by the Parliament of Canada 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 It was revised in 1929 and superseded in 1984 by the Young Offenders Act.

Canadian statute
Juvenile Delinquents Act
Parliament of Canada
  • An Act respecting juvenile delinquents
Citation SC 1908, c 40
Royal assent 20 July 1908
Repealed 2 April 1984
Legislative history
Introduced by Frédéric Liguori Béique
First reading 8 May 1908
Second reading 21 May 1908
Third reading 16 June 1908
Introduced by Allen Bristol Aylesworth
First reading 19 June 1908
Second reading 8 July 1908
Third reading 8 July 1908
Related legislation
Young Offenders Act
Youth Criminal Justice Act

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Under English common law, there were complex distinctions concerning age, criminal intent and the type of crime involved that determined whether an infant (i.e., one under the age of twenty-five)[1] could be convicted.

Ages of criminal responsibility under the civil law[1]
Stage Age Nature
Infantia Birth to 7 Not punishable for any crime
Pueritia Aetas infantiae proxima 7 to 10½
Aetas pubertati proxima 10½ to 14 Punishable if found to be doli incapaces (i.e., capable of mischief), but subject to several mitigations
Pubertas 14 to 25 Liable to be punished, whether capitally or otherwise

For common misdemeanors, particularly in cases of omission, punishment was not given to those under the age of twenty-one, except where there was a notorious breach of the peace, in which case those aged fourteen years or more could be convicted.[2] For capital crimes, since the time of Henry III, those under the age of seven could not be convicted, and those between seven and fourteen were prima facie considered to be doli capax (except where the court found them capable of distinguishing between good and evil).[3] Proof of malice had to be “strong and clear beyond all doubt and contradiction.”[4]

There has been little investigation as to how the pre-Confederation courts took the age of minor defendants into account.[5] Children and teenagers were forced to serve their sentences alongside adult offenders in typically filthy, overcrowded prisons. There were many instances where justice was uneven and punishment was extreme.[6]

In 1857, the Province of Canada passed its first Acts concerning juvenile offenders, providing special procedures for the trial of persons aged 16 or less,[7] and maximum penalties for larceny (other than by indictment) of three months’ imprisonment or a fine of £5,[8] Minor defendants still had the option of trial by jury, in which case they would be tried as an adult with corresponding punishment.[9][10] Separate reformatory prisons were established for those under the age of 22 sentenced to terms of five years or less.[11] Under the latter Act, institutions were established at Île aux Noix in Lower Canada (later moved to St-Vincent-de-Paul in Montreal in 1862),[12] and Penetanguishene in Upper Canada.[13] While Canada did not otherwise distinguish their terms from those given to adult offenders, Nova Scotia passed legislation that limited juvenile sentences to 90 days.[13]

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