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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Judicial interpretations of the Canadian 1984 Young Offenders Act Sturdy, Helen Janet


This thesis attempts to explain changes in juvenile court reasoning from ‘personal’ to ‘social’ goals of justice. The introduction of social reasoning into juvenile justice has resulted in legal reform practices which circumscribe the domain of decentralized community youth services, increase the dependency and surveillance of deviant youth, result in harsher measures of punishment, and generally widen the network of social control through the law. The shift from the treatment intervention focus of the Juvenile Delinquents Act to the deterrence and punishment focus of the Young Offenders Act is maintained by incarcerations and a ‘downward’ sliding tariff of dispositions. The new social control administration formally enters the previously informal social control networks of family, community, and peer relations. Social change options through the law are increasingly centralized in the courts (where youth are concerned) at the expense of the law's potential for mediating decentralized collective change. The new form of social reasoning by which law reform occurs is explicated in order to critique its application for the current legislation and to explore possible use of collective change processes through law. I describe ‘social’ reasoning as a form of interpretive syllogism with the goal of social good satisfied through individual justice, in contrast to ‘personal’ reasoning which involves the individual's best interests as a good in itself. Social reasoning, as currently applied in the YOA, utilizes neoclassical rationality and sociological theories that relate actions to a presumed balance of diverse and competing social interests. My own understanding of the impact of Court interpretations of the YOA are based on in-depth interviews with 10 Youth Court judges in the Vancouver area. I analyze the legislative construction and judicial implementation of the YOA as reflecting a political strategy linked to and grounded in the knowledge relations of experts. Strategies for discipline are consonant with the rationalized practices of social science knowledge, located both in science (the medical model) and in law (sociological jurisprudence). The research findings suggest that ‘social’ reasoning, which is narrowly centered on legal problems arising from the behaviour of juveniles, pursues forms of crime control directly related to the needs of capital. The YOA is thus viewed as a new discourse (based on power and knowledge relationships) that aims to widen state-social control. Given the relatively narrow jurisprudential horizons of both the legislators who framed the YOA and the judges who apply it, the potential of law for effecting social change is curtailed. I conclude my analysis by suggesting a culturally reflexive approach in which legal reasoning, by a process of reconstructing the interpretive syllogism of law to include commonsense practical reasoning, could become more conducive to community change.

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