Toronto Star

Thursday, February 24, 1999

Tory disputes teen crime, poverty link

Solicitor-general says background has little bearing


Solicitor-General Bob Runciman

Teenagers who break the law do so by choice, not because of an underprivileged background, says Ontario's top cop.

Solicitor-General Bob Runciman says studies show there is no significant link between criminal behaviour in young people and their parents' pay cheques.

"The teenagers who swarm a stranger outside an urban shopping mall could just as easily be the children of two-income professional families as the young people who volunteer spare time to help seniors could be the sons and daughters of a single parent working for minimum wage," Runciman says in a speech text obtained yesterday.

Runciman was to make the remarks today at a community centre in suburban Toronto. Before an audience of parents, students and potential voters, Runciman will fire the latest pre-election salve at the Tories' greatest threat -- Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty.

Earlier this month, McGuinty suggested Ontario Premier Mike Harris was naive about the root causes of crime when he hit the talk show and dinner circuit to condemn young people as disrespectful.

"Poverty breeds despair and despair breeds crime," McGuinty said at the time.

But Runciman, who wants strict discipline in schools and tougher federal laws for young criminals, will argue McGuinty has it all wrong.

"The last thing our children need is a politician with ambitions making excuses and telling them it's society's fault," Runciman says in the speech.

Ontario's Tories are intent on making "personal safety" an issue in the upcoming election, although most statistics show crime rates are down.

With the vote expected as early as the spring, they are also increasing their attacks on McGuinty, whose Liberals have just slipped behind the Tories in popularity polls.

Yesterday, Long-term Care Minister Cam Jackson criticized McGuinty as an "ambulance chaser" and dismissed him as a "weak" leader.

Jackson was responding to McGuinty's claim that he already compiled a list of hospitals he would reopen if elected as premier.

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