Fixing the Young Offenders Act

Posted on May 22, 2008 in Child & Family Debates, Equality Debates – opinion/editorial – the Young Offenders Act
Published: Thursday, May 22, 2008

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on youth crime last week–or perhaps because of it — the federal Conservative government is forging ahead with a comprehensive review of Canada’s exceedingly lenient 2003 Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). They must. The majority on the court may believe young offenders have a “fundamental” right to separate, lax treatment. But the public also has a right to be protected from violent criminals.

Last Friday, the very day the Supreme Court brought down its ruling, Statistics Canada reported “the crime rate among young people aged 12 to 17 climbed 3% between 2005 and 2006.” More troubling, the agency reported that while “the overall rate of youth crime was 6% lower than a decade earlier and 25% below the peak in 1991,” serious offences committed by young people have risen 12% over the past decade, and 30% since 1991. Drug crimes have nearly doubled and “the number and rate of young people accused of homicide in 2006 reached their highest point since data were first collected in 1961.” In all, nearly one in five teenagers will have a run-in with the law before they turn 20, a rate more than twice that for the adult population.

So what is to be done?

Since its introduction in 2003, the YCJA has produced mixed results. Its second-chance approach for minor offenders does seem to have encouraged many single-offence law-breakers to sin no more. But the steady rise in major youth crimes shows the YCJA is having the opposite effect with the most hardened of young thugs.

Two-thirds of all youth crimes — and nearly all the violent offences — are committed by those young people with five or more crimes on their records. It is these habitual criminals the Tories must deal with harshly. And since the justices did not rule out the imposition of harsh penalties for all young offenders, the government has room to introduce get-tough amendments that will protect the public from the worst of the worst young offenders.

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