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Jail for Kids
August 15, 2006 permalink
Since parents no longer have authority over their own children, it is necessary for the justice system to take their place. This article shows the first step toward a Gulag for Canadian pre-teens.
Justice minister hints at jail time for pre-teen offenders
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Children aged 10 and 11 who run afoul of the law should be brought before the courts, Justice Minister Vic Toews said Monday in a controversial and surprise proposal to expand the age of criminal responsibility, which currently kicks in at age 12.
''We need to find ways of ensuring that children are deterred from crime,'' Toews told the annual gathering of the Canadian Bar Association. ''We need to give courts jurisdiction to intervene in the lives of these young people.''
Speaking to reporters later, he did not rule out incarceration of children under 12, but he said the courts' primary focus should be treatment programs outside the jail system.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which replaced the young offenders act three years ago, purposely excluded children under 12 because the Liberal government of the day said 12 is considered to be the age at which a young person can understand their actions and consequences.
The law applies to 12- to 17-year-olds, the same age limits as the former young offenders act, which replaced the juvenile delinquents act in 1984.
Several provinces, along with the former Reform party, lobbied hard to include 10- and 11-year-olds in the criminal justice system during heated debates in the late 1990s, arguing they are old enough to be held accountable for their crimes.
Toews said on Monday it's often too late to rehabilitate troubled children who cannot be charged until age 12.
''The theory is that the child welfare system will take care of those children but that is not the case in most provinces,'' he said. ''In most provinces, in fact, the child welfare system is allowing criminal conduct to continue among those types of children. They're being used by gangs and drug couriers to do break and enters, there are other kinds of very serious crimes, so by the time they're 12, they're already criminals.''
Toews was unclear on the kinds of sanctions the courts should have the power to impose.
''We need to have a special way for the courts to intervene in a positive fashion in the lives of these children in some type of treatment program and I think that needs to be discussed,'' he said.
The prospect of including 10- and 11-year-olds in the criminal justice system sparked an angry response from Heather Perkins-McVey, a lawyer for the bar association.
''Does he want the death penalty for them too?'' she asked. ''This concerns me that we're going back to the Dark Ages. Maybe we should have work houses too.''
Perkins-McVey said the criminal justice system is not the proper place for handling wayward children, who are currently apprehended by child welfare authorities and offered treatment in group homes.
Rather than bringing these children before the courts, the federal government should increase funding to the provinces for improved child welfare services if the justice minister is worried that the authorities are not doing their jobs, Perkins-McVey said.
''The criminal justice system is not a place to obtain treatment for anyone,'' she said.
Including 10- and 11-year-olds in young offender laws is not mentioned in the Conservative party's election platform, which proposes other get-tough measures, such as making it automatic for youths charged with serious crimes to receive adult sentences, and instructing judges to consider deterrence and denunciation when sentencing youths convicted of crimes.
Criminologists and sociologists have had varying opinions on the wisdom of making children under 12 legally responsible for their actions.
Some say for some children, the window of opportunity to rehabilitation is closed by the time a child is 12, while others counter 12 is the cut-off age for being able to understand criminal behaviour and consequences.
Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, young people convicted of crimes do not carry criminal records into adulthood.
Toews did not say whether he plans legislation any time soon.
Source: The National Post, canada.com
Addendum: The government repudiated this idea the next day.