Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of
Canada, has introduced new legislation in the House of Commons
to replace the existing Young Offenders Act.
There has been much debate over the new legislation, know
as the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Primarily, the new "legislation
would better distinguish between violent and non-violent crime
and provide appropriate measures to deal with both; strengthen
efforts to rehabilitate young people who commit crimes; and encourage
the use of effective and meaningful alternatives to custody for
non-violent crimes. This new legislation, particularly the new
category 'pattern of violent behaviour', is long overdue.
When she first announced the proposal, McLellan said, "Canadians
want a youth justice system that protects society and instills
values such as accountability, responsibility and respect. They
want governments to help prevent youth crime in the first place
and make sure there are meaningful consequences when it occurs."
The new act responds to citizens' concerns over the rising
number of violent crimes committed by people under the age of
18. Under the old act, the maximum sentence for any crime including
murder, assault, sexual assault was five years in juvenile detention.
The new act provides for trial and punishment as an adult
for youths age 14 and up for serious offenses. It is intended
to act as a deterrent. Other portions expand the courts powers
of discretion where mental instability is a problem, and in the
areas of rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
However, the new act still fails to deal with potential criminal
activity by those below the age of 14, and there have been some
cases, even of murder, being committed by children as young as
seven. It is questionable also whether the current changes will
act as a deterrent to a group of people who probably couldn't
read the act with understanding even if they were inclined to.
I would venture to say the few if any persons guilty of criminal
offenses ever read up on the consequences of a crime before they
The problem with crime in a society is always difficult to
address. Does a rise in the crime rate mean the society is disintegrating?
And if so, at what point? The family level? The community level?
Laws tend to be written after the fact, just as this one is.
It may provide a better mechanism for controlling the behavior
of those to whom it is applied; but it will not prevent the crimes
which bring the perpetrators into contact with the law.
Some psychologists maintain that anti-social behavior can
be spotted in children as young as three and even suggest intervention
should start then. But no one as yet has come up with a sure-fire
grading system that will distinguish between the potential murderer
and someone who just doesn't communicate well or prefers to be
a loner. Another danger here is that intervention may only result
in the subject becoming better at hiding violent tendencies rather
than dealing with them.
Strong, close-knit families and communities probably have
a better chance at minimizing violent crime than any system of
justice, which can only react to the occurrence.