Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday June 09, 1999

'Tough love' mother in court

Crusader for tougher youth laws charged in theft

Jeremy Mercer
The Ottawa Citizen

An Ottawa mother who received national attention for protesting that the justice system was being too soft on her young offender son now stands charged with the very same type of crime her son committed.

The 35-year-old woman, who cannot be named because it would identify her teenaged son, is charged with break-and-enter and possession of stolen property worth less than $5,000 after a weekend incident at an Ottawa-area apartment.

She was released from custody yesterday after a brief court appearance for which she showed up with tattoos on both arms and wearing a shirt that said: If you don't like my attitude call 1-800-EAT-S---.

In January, the woman began protesting with a placard in front of the Ottawa courthouse because she said her 17-year-old son was being coddled by the court system.

Her son was charged with several counts of possessing stolen goods and his lawyer, Rob Lewis, had arranged for him to be sent to an open-custody group home as a form of punishment. The youth had committed previous property offences.

At the time, she said she wanted her son sent to boot camp, and walked in front of the courthouse for days with signs reading "Send my YO son to Boot Camp" and "Adult Crime = Adult Time."

She said then she didn't know how her son had become so lawless.

"He was raised in a home with the utmost of principles and scruples. I don't blame myself," she said.

Her plea received national media attention, including appearances she made on television's Sunday Edition and Jane Hawtin Live. Right-wingers heralded her as a good mother who was being betrayed by the toothless Young Offenders Act.

An Ottawa-Carleton police officer told a local newspaper that if every parent acted like she did, the country would have a better justice system.

During the campaign, Mr. Lewis maintained the mother was at the root of the boy's troubles.

At one court hearing, the lawyer told the judge she was an unfit mother who had kicked her children out of the house in the past.

Mr. Lewis did not want to comment on the case yesterday.

Despite her January protests, the courts put her son into an open-custody group home. He has since been trouble-free.

When reached at home last night, the woman said the charges against her were a big misunderstanding.

She said she was cleaning an apartment for a friend and threw out some rotting furniture and old books. On Sunday, a police officer arrived at her house and arrested her for stealing those items.

"How could it be a break-and-enter? They gave me the key?" she says. "And those things, I threw them out, I didn't take them. They were gross. I was doing them a favour by cleaning up the apartment and this is what I get."

She says her night in jail was "the worst night of her life" but despite her brush with the law, she remains critical of the treatment her son got.

"It's not the Young Offenders Act, it's the Young Enablers Act," she said. "I know people are going to think this is all ironic what has happened to me, but I just want them to listen to me. That's why I called the newspaper to begin with, to get the message out."

She says she no longer has a relationship with her son and is scared of him, but "not so scared as I won't defend myself."

She returns to court on June 22.