From Issue #2
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Toughening the Young Offenders Act
by Lori Saunders
last year, Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice and Attorney General
of Canada, introduced the new Youth Criminal Justice Act which
replaces the Young Offenders Act (YOA) as part of the Government
of Canada's Youth Justice Strategy.
probably not a bad idea to know what our lawmakers are talking
about: especially when it affects you. Lately, the hot topic
of discussion at Parliament Hill has been Teen Crime and Punishment.
to McLellan, our government decided to overhaul the youth justice
system in response to what Canadians were telling them, "Most
had lost confidence in the Young Offenders Act. The system didn't
seem to be working very well, with increasing numbers of young
people in jail for relatively minor offences."
federal justice minister spoke at a youth justice conference
as her proposed young offenders legislation was under scrutiny
in the House of Commons in Ottawa. She says that calls for tougher
sentences for young offenders are a simplistic answer to a complex
children or teenagers who break the law into prisons designed
for adults makes no sense, she says.
proposed legislation drew criticism from the opposition Reform
party for being too easy on youth who get in trouble with the
law. The Reform party wants the age of offenders covered by
the law to be lowered to 10 from 12 and says youth older than
15 should be automatically transferred to adult court.
isn't buying it.
kids in jail, though sometimes necessary, is not an effective
response to youth crime," McLellan says. "Once you talk to Canadians,
they're the ones who tell us putting more young people in jail
for longer will not make this a safer society," she says. The
legislation also proposed lowering the age of those who could
get adult sentences to 14 from 16 and imposing supervision on
all young offenders who have done time in jail.
feels, "We need to acknowledge that when serious things happen,
there need to be meaningful consequences. "The Reform party
says youth get caught in a cycle of crime because they know
there are no serious consequences.
they're right. Faze Teen spoke with 'John Doe' who at the age
of 15 was charged with Grand Theft Auto and Possession Over
$1000. When asked why he did it, he responded, "I did it for
something to do - it was all for fun." John went on to say,
"I knew the law. I knew the worst thing that could happen was
serving some community hours because I was a young offender
and it would be my first offence."
when we asked John if he would have still committed the crime
if he knew the consequences would be severe, he answered, "I
thought I would get away with it so it didn't matter what the
According to the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, lawyers
who are familiar with young offenders are unanimous in stating
that, "These youths, at the time of their offence, gave no consideration
to the consequences of their actions and that they would in
no way be deterred from committing offences if they knew that
their name would be published in the paper; no more than they
would be if they knew that they would be subjected to more severe
spoke with another young offender, Jane Doe. When asked what
was going through her head as she attacked a young girl with
a knife, she answered, "She had provoked me for months, so at
the time, I was mad - and she was just making me madder!" At
14, Jane was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Weapon.
She recalls, "There were four teachers, two principals and several
students watching, so I knew I'd be caught but didn't care at
severe consequences have deterred her from the assault? She
says, "I probably still would have done it since I wasn't thinking
about the punishment anyway."
to say, this new legislation will not please everyone.
Minister, McLellan, says that the legislation is part of a wider
strategy dealing with youth crime that doesn't always involve
judges and jails, but community-based efforts to prevent kids
from becoming criminals.
Include: Canadian Press, CBC News Online
on government statistics, of the approximately 110,000 cases heard
in Canadian youth courts in 1996-97:
24 % involved 17-year-olds
· 24 % involved 16-year-olds
· 22 % were 15-year-olds
· 15 % were 14-year-olds
· 8 % were 13-year-olds
· 3 % were 12-year-olds