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By Jordan W. Charness

When we think about people getting in trouble with their cars, we generally tend to think of adults. For most people, owning a car does not happen until well into their adult lives. Teenagers who drive cars usually drive their parent’s vehicle, or in some cases, pool their money to buy a car that they can fix up and enjoy.

When it comes to criminal offences like car theft, we tend to think about adults and organized crime. It is well known that Montreal is the stolen car capital of North America. More stolen cars go through this city than just about any other on the continent. Although you can be reasonably sure that your car will be there when you return, you must take precautions to make sure that is not stolen.

Leaving your car in a well-lit parking place that sees a lot of traffic going by is one of the simplest ways to prevent theft. The addition of ignition kill switches and active alarms are also good theft deterrents. There’s even a device called “Boomerang Tracking:” this device is installed in your vehicle by a company who can track your car if it is stolen. They claim to have a very high recovery rate, so much so that many insurance companies will give a reduction in your premium if you have this item installed and pay the monthly monitoring fees.

Sometimes your vehicle is not stolen; it’s just “borrowed.” There are many recorded incidents of cars being taken for a joy ride, usually by youths. As far as the law is concerned, this is still considered a major theft and could be punishable by many years in jail.

Since “kids” are so often involved in this type of behaviour, the government decided long ago to treat them differently than adult offenders. Let’s take the mythical case of Mike who is 15 years old and was arrested for car theft. In his mind, he wasn’t stealing the car; he was just using it without permission. The law does not see it that way.

Mike’s parents, of course, are worried about what will happen to him. This so-called prank may cost him dearly. What exactly are the penalties for a young car thief?

On January 1, 2003, the federal government brought into force the Youth Criminal Justice Act, most recently revised in 2005. According to this law a teenager who is over the age 12 and under 18 years of age may be dealt with using this legislation rather than The Criminal Code.

If there is enough evidence to conclude that the teenager committed a dangerous and serious offence like murder, armed robbery – or is a repeat offender – the Crown Prosecutor will usually elect to take penal proceedings against the young offender. He may decide to try him in Youth Court where the penalties are less severe than those prescribed by the criminal code. Or if the crime was serious enough, he may elect to proceed in adult court and ask for adult type penalties.

Mike, however, has only had this one brush with the law and it is not as serious as the offences listed above. In this type of case, the Crown prosecutor will often refer the case to the Youth Protection Director.

If the young offender has acknowledged that what he did was wrong and is ready to take responsibility for his actions, the Director of Youth Protection may place the teenager in an Alternative Measures Program.

This program lets young offenders make up for what they did wrong and they may do so without appearing before a juvenile court. In a case like this one, Mike could be ordered to compensate the owner of the car by doing a few days of work for him or by getting another job and paying for whatever damage he caused. Mike could also be ordered to do community work or any other similar measure that the director feels appropriate.

This system is aimed at making young offenders take responsibility for their criminal acts. It moves quickly and tries to rectify the situation and make a point that the kid will long remember. It allows a first-time young offender to learn from his mistake without giving him a juvenile record or even sending him through the court system.

While the system is not suitable for every young offender, it does give some kids the second chance they need to go on with their lives without carrying this mistake around forever.

For those teenagers who are deemed not likely to benefit from this system, the Director of Youth Protection has the right to send their file back to the Crown prosecutor to begin court proceedings.

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