In the eyes of the law in Canada, a youth is someone who is 12–17 years of age. In criminal cases, these youths are dealt with in a special youth court. Once they turn 18, they attend adult criminal court. For mental health services, however, there is often some flexibility when defining “youth,” and the age range may go beyond 18 years of age.
Who to call when a mental health crisis occurs
In some areas of Ontario there are Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCIT) available to help you, your child, or anyone else experiencing a mental health crisis. MCIT services often engage police officers, nurses and community organizations to work together in helping with a crisis. A police officer may arrive with a nurse who specializes in mental health or other community service worker to help. They will try to de-escalate the crisis and find the appropriate supports for your child.
You can contact them 24 hours a day through your local police service, by calling 9-1-1, or by contacting a local crisis support hotline. All of these services will be able to tell you if an MCIT is available in your area and when they are available to attend to a crisis call. In the hours when MCIT services are unavailable, police and ambulance services are available around the clock.
Any number of situations can be considered a mental health crisis, such as a behavioural issue that has escalated beyond your control.
If you, your child or someone else is in danger due to a mental health issue, call for help.
Whether MCIT services are available in your area or not, it is always important to clearly communicate to police or a 9-1-1 operator that there is a mental health crisis occurring. This ensures that the most appropriate help is made available.
Apprehension under the Mental Health Act
A youth may be taken to a hospital emergency room or psychiatric facility when the police find sufficient grounds to do so under the directives of the Mental Health Act. This is done when it would be dangerous to proceed in any other available way.
When a child is arrested
If a mental health issue or crisis leads to a youth being arrested and charged with a criminal offence, you can also find help within the criminal justice system. You can access services and have mental health supports put into place at any stage of the court process.
Mental health support workers can be found in most courthouses, usually in their own office there. Sometimes you can find them through a Probation Office in the courthouse. There is also a Duty Counsel Office available in almost every criminal courthouse that can assist you or provide a helpful list of services.
You can also contact community mental health services such as Canadian Mental Health Association branches across Ontario.
Rights when under arrest
A youth has the following rights upon being arrested and charged by police:
- Right to Counsel — the right to speak with a lawyer without delay
- Notice to Parent — police are required to contact a parent or other available adult to inform them of the charge
- Charter Rights — full protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes these rights:
- To be informed of the specific offence
- To retain and instruct a lawyer
- To appear before a judge or justice of the peace to determine bail
- To be presumed innocent until proven guilty
Getting legal advice
- If you do not have a privately retained lawyer, you can access the services of a duty counsel for your child. These are lawyers provided by Legal Aid Ontario to advise and give assistance free of charge. Contact information is available on the Legal Aid Ontario website at http://www.legalaid.on.ca/en/contact/contact.asp?type=dc
- A duty counsel is available in most criminal courthouses in Ontario.
- Time is allowed to consider the evidence (the disclosure) and any offer of diversion or sentencing position offered by the attorney for the Crown. It is important for your child to get legal advice to help in making decisions and to ensure that they are comfortable with the procedures and aware of the possible consequences.
Although you are there to help your child, it is important that you understand their independence in the legal process. Youth are entitled to privacy and confidentiality when speaking with a lawyer and in making decisions about their case.
- If a youth is not released from the police station shortly after their arrest, they will appear in a courtroom before a judge or justice of the peace within 24 hours for a decision about bail.
- A bail decision should be made as soon as possible, but might be delayed if there is no plan in place for release — such as a parent or responsible adult being available to sign for bail.
- The court representative may want to see a mental health plan in place for the youth, which means setting up supports in the community to assist while the youth is out on bail.
- If the youth is released, the next step will be making court appearances to deal with the case, which takes place over a period of weeks or months.
- If the youth is not released, they may be sent to an open-custody facility such as a group home, or to a secure detention facility until their next court appearance. Which facility they are sent to is not decided by the attorney for the Crown or by the defence lawyer. Depending on their length of stay in custody, they may have access to school programs and mental health supports while there.
If you know that your child needs medication or mental health supports, you can speak to a duty counsel and have them inform the court. You can also attend court and ask to be heard during your child’s court appearance, to inform the court of your child’s needs. A duty counsel is present to assist with this.
Court appearances are made in the “set date” court until a decision is made about how to resolve the case: accepting a diversion program, pleading guilty, or proceeding to trial.
You can access community services for mental health in the courthouse through the Duty Counsel Office, Probation Office or Mental Health Support Office, where available. This can be done at any stage during the process, even if the youth is not in a special Mental Health Court.
There may also be special programs, such as Peacebuilders Canada (in Toronto), to assist youth who may have had encounters with the law or are heading down a negative path that may lead to criminal charges. Peacebuilders is experienced in dealing with youth with mental health issues and will provide guidance, sometimes making referrals to community mental health programs. They offer a holistic approach to helping youth out of trouble, and addressing mental health is part of the process.
Mental Health Court
- Some courts in Ontario have designated Mental Health Courts for youth.
- There is an assigned courtroom, a Crown, a duty counsel and a judge.
- The criteria for having a case heard in a Mental Health Court may differ based on each courthouse and its process. If your child feels that they belong there, you should tell your lawyer or a duty counsel, Crown attorney or mental health worker.
- Mental health support workers are available to provide support and assist with accessing resources in the community at any stage in the criminal proceeding, even if the youth does not qualify for Mental Health Court.
The Crown must provide evidence against the youth. This is called disclosure. Examples of evidence include:
- Police notes
- Any witness statements that may have been taken
- Audio or video evidence
- Reports or other information
This can take up to a few months to produce, but may be available sooner.
The Crown will provide their position on the case: what they think would be a fair sentence if the youth pleaded guilty, or whether they are eligible for extrajudicial sanctions (EJS), mental health diversion, or other available programs.
Youth may be offered EJS diversion by the Crown.
The purpose of EJS is to have the youth take some responsibility for their actions without having to plead guilty or have a youth (criminal) record.
If the youth does not complete the program, the Crown may revoke the offer.
If there is a finding of guilt, probation is a type of sentence a youth may receive.
If a probation order is issued by a judge, a probation officer will be assigned to the youth.
A probation officer is there to help develop a plan to stay out of trouble and to achieve future goals.
A probation officer can also make referrals to mental health services, counselling services and programs such as the Community Support Team (CTS), which provides assistance to high-risk youth.
Find services close to home by searching the Ontario Health Care Options directory.
CMHA Ontario Branches
Legal Aid Ontario
Mental Health Helpline
Free information is available 24/7 about mental health court support and diversion services for youth.
For more information
Justice for Children and Youth
Information about legal services for young people under 18 and homeless youth under 25 in Ontario.
Legal Aid Ontario
Ministry of Children and Youth Services
Youth and the Law
Information about Ontario’s youth justice system.
Navigating the Youth Criminal Justice and Mental Health Systems
A simplified map of the pathways between the youth criminal justice system and the mental health system for youth aged 12– 17.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton
Crisis Outreach and response Team (COAST)
Toronto Police Service
Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT)
Windsor Police Service
Community Outreach and Response Team (COAST)