Laws to deal with children that have broken the law have evolved over time. Prior to legislation, children were treated as "little adults". They were subjected to the same punishments,(whipping, hanging, incarceration) that were given to adults that broke the law. Religious organizations and other groups set up reform and industrial schools to dissuade children from criminal life. These also provided an alternative to "adult" prison.
In 1892, Canada's Criminal Code stated that the minimum age for charging a child was the age of seven. This was a reflection of the British Criminal Code. Public concern for children's rights and well being led to the establishment of the Youthful Offenders Act in 1894.(Gibson, Murphy, Jarman, Grant, 2003) Youths were to be tried separately from adults and incarcerated in a separate facility. The courts could also choose alternatives to imprisonment by sending the youth to foster care or reformatories. In 1908, the Juvenile Delinquents Act, provided a separate justice system for youth.
This system was not changed until 1984, after massive changes were made to the system resulting in the Young Offenders Act. However, there was much criticism that the Act was too lenient which led to more amendments and the current (April 2003) Youth Criminal Justice Act.
(http://www.mapleleafweb.com/features/crime/youth-act/youth-criminal-justice-act.html)The Young Offenders Act was heavily criticized for being to lenient and not doing a good job of correcting systematic problems in the youth justice system. After a few highly publicized cases where under 5 years of jail-time was handed out for serious crimes such as murder, the public started to take action. The Youth Criminal Justice Act was introduced in early 2000 and brought forth in 2002. This act expanded a lot on rehabilitation for violent, nonviolent and repeat offenders. Provinces and territories started to invest and expand in more community services.