There’s a controversy brewing here, because our justice minister, Vic Toews, thinks children ages 10 and 11 should be brought into the criminal justice system.
Toews thinks youth courts should have the power to intervene in the lives of younger children who have fallen "under the influence of criminal elements." A judge could be given the power to "assist" a child by ordering treatment or some other "disposition," Toews said, adding that his main interest is treatment, not imprisonment. Courts should be able to step in before a child has established a pattern of behaviour that could have harmful, long-term consequences, he said. "I'm sometimes provided with anecdotes about people coming to the court by age 12 and they've had a horrendous involvement with the police and other social agencies, but the courts have been unable to intervene.
"There needs to be more flexibility in the act," he told reporters later. "We need to find ways of ensuring children are deterred from crime.
End of discussion. What intelligent person would have a problem with this? Children already demonstrating a pattern of repeated behaviour that has put them on an intersect course with the police don’t just get sent home and told to ‘sin no more’ but actually face consequences for their actions.
Of course, the critics disagree. "Kids need to stay out of the criminal justice system," Ontario child advocate Judy Finlay says.
Fantastic. Then Ms. Finlay can come over and clean up the part of our fence a group of youths knocked over and pay to have it replaced.
And while she’s at it, I’m sure she won’t mind picking up the garbage they dumped in our hedges.
Oh, and scrubbing the graffiti off the railcars at the train museum. Can’t say it looks terribly appealing to potential visitors.
We all know that there are patterns of behaviour in serial killers that emerge in childhood. The overwhelming majority don’t just wake up one day and say, “Oh, I can’t get a job at McDonald’s, so I’ll go kill a few people.”
Now, before anyone jumps all over me and says I’m anti-child, I’m not advocating that kids as young as 10 go to jail. What I’m saying is what our justice minister is saying, which anyone who took the time to get off their self-righteous high-horse and actually listened would hear. There needs to be a system in place to address kids that are repeatedly coming into contact with the police and demonstrating a pattern of unlawful behaviour. Obviously, these ‘repeat offenders’ aren’t being dealt with at home. Sending them back to that environment may not be the solution… Or, at least, there should be counseling, a special ‘youth probation officer’ of sorts – somebody to step in and keep an eye on things and try to address the root issues.
This is, after all, the real problem. The crimes are often the symptoms of much deeper problems. I mean, my niece is still, for all of 9 more days, 11. Yet she’s a smart kid and knows right from wrong. If she went and torched someone’s house or killed a cat, should we really just send her home and shrug our shoulders and say she’s too young to understand?
I don’t think so. I think that’s just ridiculous.
I sure as hell knew right from wrong by the age of ten. Okay, maybe not in every single situation in life. But there are basics. Like, if it doesn’t belong to you it isn’t yours and you don’t have the right to destroy it or break it.
I remember once we were visiting family friends. I was 8 or 9 at the time. These people had two children, a girl and a boy. Of course, their son was my age, their daughter my sister’s age.
Now, I can’t remember why their son wasn’t around… but I was pretty much shafted, because the older girls were shutting me out, hanging out in the girl’s room, listening to records.
So I broke the needle on the record player.
Do you think my parents just said I was misunderstood and needed more hugs? Hell, no. I paid to fix that needle out of my allowance. And you know what I learned? That, no matter how mad I was, I didn’t have the right to mess with something that didn’t belong to me, and if I did there were consequences.
It wasn’t a cruel lesson. It was a fair lesson. One that stayed with me. Part of the reason I’m so fucking annoyed at having neighbours who’ve stolen stuff off our property. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have kids, and here they are, modeling their shitty lifestyle for two impressionable children, one of whom has developed a habit of taunting our dogs.
I can look back on my own childhood and honestly say that a lot of the kids doing bad things were crying out for help. I knew these kids – for the most part, you were in class with the same 27-29 children every year. This one girl, TM, was the bane of my existence at school. In grade 1 she stole one of my Christmas presents out of my desk. I told on her. The next year, she cornered me outside at recess and beat on me. That actually happened most years.
I’d venture to say the only problem about my ‘conditioning’ where that was concerned was that I wouldn’t hit back. You weren’t supposed to hit back. A philosophy that stayed with me to the night when I was 14 and was beaten to the point where I had permanent damage to my jaw. A week later I was hospitalized.
I remember being so angry that the schools did nothing to stop me from being beaten up. Most times, these kids didn’t get any punishment at all. I remember ending up in the office sometimes, filling in time so I didn’t have to be subjected to that. Others who had similar problems used to spend recess walking with the on-duty teachers so they couldn’t be caught alone.
It’s the innocent who get punished, not just as kids on playgrounds, but in society. Money and energy and time goes into dealing with the criminals, while there are people out there trying to figure out how to put their lives back together.
After the incident when I was 14, the government did step in. I became a case file. I was monitored. Through that, family therapy was to follow, though it didn’t do much good. You can’t fix people who like being broken, or have been that way for so long they think it’s normal.
But my case worker sifted through a lot of shit to figure out what the root issues were in my life. And she mandated a transfer to a new high school in a different town. I went from a school with 300+ kids, most of whom I’d been in school with my whole life, just a few grades behind them, to a school of 1000. Where I knew exactly 2 people – one of whom is my brother-in-law, who was already dating my sister way back then.
But through the move, I connected to a lot of other ‘case file’ kids. Many of whom I’m still in touch with now, because we had that foundation. We understood each other.
I wasn’t a criminal, but I got lucky. Back then, all I saw was that I was getting out. Away from some of the people who’d been abusing me for years. All that time, nobody did anything to make them stop.
And we wonder why kids are going to school with guns these days.
I’m not justifying that. I just look back on my own experience, and I’m frustrated. Still frustrated more wasn’t done to stop those bullies.
Not surprised to know some have since ended up in jail.
The difference between what we’ve got now and what our justice minister wants is simple. A chance to stop some criminal activity and actually get these kids off that track before it’s too late.
And maybe, inadvertently, to keep some other people from being victimized until they can’t take it any more.
Ms. Finlay can hand out hugs all she wants.
But then she should be prepared to clean up the mess.
And you likely won’t find very rational discussion from me on this one. I’ve worked with kids. I spent the bulk of my adult life working with kids. I’ve been beaten over the head with a wooden board by a five-year-old. I’ve been bitten to the point where skin was broken. I’ve been kicked, had property destroyed… And we aren’t even talking about what I’ve intervened on, that one child has done to another.
I’m not saying the solution is locking young kids up. But there is no mechanism. I know teachers who are physically afraid to go to work. I have colleagues who’ve come to the point where it’s them or the child, and they’ve quit, because they couldn’t endure one more day of being beaten on by a kid.
We have a faulty system in place. We need something that protects everybody. Nearing the end of my career, I worked with two boys who were school-aged, who were caught abusing animals.
You know what was done.
And I happen to think that’s pretty fucking sad. There are days I might be disappointed about not having children.
Then I remember what the world is like, and it makes me feel a bit better.