Ottawa Citizen
Saturday April 01, 2000

Ontario plans Parental Responsibility Act, sources say

JAMES MCCARTEN
The Ottawa Citizen

TORONTO (CP) - Parents would be held financially liable for the crimes of their children under legislation to be introduced this week by the Ontario government. The Conservatives expect to table the Parental Responsibility Act on Tuesday, the second day of the spring session of the legislature, government sources told The Canadian Press.

The bill would impose civil liability of up to $6,000 on parents who fail to adequately supervise or discourage criminal behaviour in their children.

"It would require parents to pay for property damage or loss caused by children under 18, unless the parent can prove it was not intentional or they provided reasonable supervision," a source in the Ontario Attorney General's office said Saturday.

Under current laws, if the victims of property crime wish to sue the family of a young offender in small claims court, they must prove the parents were negligent.

The new law would force the parents of the perpetrators to prove in court that they should not be held responsible, the source said.

"The idea is to raise the profile of this issue, to ensure parents are teaching their children the kinds of values most people in society would agree should be taught."

The legislation is part of a continuing effort by Premier Mike Harris and his Tory government to portray themselves as a law-and-order administration bent on straightening out wayward youth and buttressing the rights of victims.

A provincewide code of conduct for students, the introduction of school uniforms and a law banning squeegee kids from city streets have all been recent components of that campaign.

But the government's own research suggests that like many of its previous crime-crackdown measures, the Parental Responsibility Act could be open to constitutional challenges.

A 1998 government research paper warns that such an act could violate the Charter of Rights because it holds one individual responsible for the crimes of another.

By implying young offenders are not fully responsible for their actions, it could also violate tenets of the Young Offenders Act, which is intended to hold young people more accountable.

The research paper also cites critics who say that holding poor, single-parent families financially responsible does little to improve parenting standards.

The legislation emulates a similar law enacted in 1997 in Manitoba, which is based on the province's constitutional authority over civil law. That law was the first of its kind in Canada.

In 1998, B.C. Liberal justice critic Geoff Plant introduced a private member's bill that would have made parents liable for up to $5,000 for the crimes of their children. The bill was never passed.

In Canada, the criminal activity of young persons is governed by the Criminal Code and the Young Offenders Act, which sets the procedures under which young offenders are prosecuted.

Currently, neither statute makes parents responsible for the criminal activity of their children.

© The Canadian Press, 2000

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen