National Post

Saturday, March 06, 1999

New act would jail parents for children's crimes
Publication of names: New Youth Criminal Justice Act to be introduced

Norm Ovenden with files from Sheldon Alberts
National Post

Parents could be jailed for up to two years if their law-breaking child continues to commit crimes while under their supervision, according to the new Youth Criminal Justice Act to be introduced this week.

The long-awaited legislation, to be tabled on Thursday by Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, replaces the Young Offenders Act, which critics have long held is too lenient.

Sources said yesterday the new act will also lower the age at which young offenders can receive adult sentences from 16 to 14, and permit the publication of the names of all young offenders over 14 who receive adult sentences.

But the imposition of tough penalties on parents may be its boldest measure. It's the result of efforts by victims' rights crusader Chuck Cadman, the Reform justice critic who entered politics after his 16-year-old son was stabbed to death by a young offender, a government source said.

Mr. Cadman introduced a private member's bill in October, 1997, that called for parents to be held criminally accountable if a young offender commits serious crimes when released from custody under parental supervision.

Ms. McLellan was impressed with Mr. Cadman's bill -- still slated for Commons debate on March 15 -- and adopted it almost word for word in her new legislation, said the source.

The greater risk of severe sanctions will force parents and guardians to take greater responsibility to ensure their son or daughter cleans up their act, Mr. Cadman said yesterday, shortly after he was informed of the proposed law in a private conversation with Ms. McLellan.

"I've been after that since about three days after Jesse was murdered six-and-a-half years ago," said the Vancouver-area Reform MP. "It's a legacy to my son."

Normally, when a child is charged with a crime, a parent or guardian signs an agreement with the court to supervise the child until the charges are heard. The measure is similar to bail.

Usually the youth court judge will impose restrictions on what the offender can do, but the legal undertaking is often neglected with no penalty, Mr. Cadman said.

Under the new legislation, a responsible person who wilfully fails to comply with the court undertaking would be guilty of an indictable offence and liable for up to two years in jail.

Jesse Cadman was murdered in 1992 after he was jumped by a gang of thugs.

The killer had earlier been released to his father's care after another scrape with the law, on the stipulated condition that the father enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The stabbing occurred at midnight.

Making parental neglect an indictable offence is a big deterrent, Mr. Cadman believes.

"I would say there's a pretty good chance that if that father had

known he was going to be facing two years in prison if he didn't supervise

that curfew that the kid might not have been out that night."

The government source added that "Canadians generally feel these kids aren't being taught important values of responsibility, accountability and respect for others and their property. Something has to be done. Part of that feeling is that parents have a huge role to play here and some parents aren't doing their jobs."

The new Youth Criminal Justice Act comes 11 months after Ms. McLellan first announced details of the government's youth justice strategy. It marks the first major revamp of the youth justice system since the Young Offenders Act replaced the 76-year-old Juvenile Delinquents Act in 1984.

The existing act has been maligned almost from its inception by critic who believe it is too soft on youth criminals.

The new act is expected to include a number of tough measures. For instance, though Ms. McLellan has made it clear that she does not share the view of some provinces that parents should be financially liable for their children's crimes, the new law will require young offenders or their parents to pay for legal counsel in cases where they are capable of paying.

Up to now, provinces have not been recovering those legal costs.

The new legislation is also expect to include rules that:

- Expand the offenses for which a young offender would be liable to adult sentences. Those already include murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and sexual assault. But the government is creating a "special sentencing plan" for the most violent, high-risk young offenders which it says will result in longer sentences and intensive rehabilitation and treatment.

- Allow publication of names of 14 to 17-year-old young offenders who receive a youth sentence for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or repeat serious violent offenses. Judges will be given the authority to order a youth's name not be released in special circumstances.

"There is a presumption of publication but the judge can overrule it," a Justice official said.

- Requires young offenders or their parents to pay for legal counsel when they are capable of paying. Currently, provinces pay young offenders' court costs.

But the federal overhaul of the youth justice system will also contain provisions that will allow more non-violent offenders to escape jail terms through community-based and alternative sentencing.

"Our whole strategy hangs on the distinction we are making between violent and nonviolent crime," said a senior Justice department official. "Our view is that violent offenders must be dealt with more firmly, but with non-violent offenders, too many of them are going to jail when there are more meaningful and more effective consequences developed to deal with them outside of jail."

The new law will continue to cover youths age 12 to 17, but is likely to receive a cold response from the Official Opposition.

The Reform party has advocated legislation that covers 10 and 11 year old, a position that was supported by the Commons justice committee.

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