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Government of Saskatchewan - News Release, October 29, 1998

Stop Blaming Youth Say Provincial Children's Advocates

Provincial Children's Advocates expressed concern over the proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act at a national meeting held last week. The meeting of the Canadian Council of Provincial Children's Advocates was held in Edmonton, October 21 to 24, 1998, and focused on developing effective ways to assist children and youth, particularly youth in conflict with the law.

Following this meeting, the Children's Advocates, representing six provinces in Canada, are urging Federal, Provincial and Territorial Justice Ministers, who are meeting in Regina today, to focus on positive ways to enhance youth justice in Canada.

The Provincial Children's Advocates believe that the proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act do not go far enough in addressing the core issues that cause youth crime. Prevention and community-based sentencing must be prioritized. Continued focus on the small number of youth committing "serious, violent and repeat offences" does not address the issues that lead youth to involvement in crime. Such issues include poverty, abuse, youth unemployment, and the need for better services for at-risk youth.

Proposed changes such as imposing adult sentences on children as young as 14 years will not build the necessary skills that will assist youth in becoming contributing members of society. Greater emphasis must be placed on rehabilitation rather than Read More ..stody and control that permanently label and entrench youth in the justice system. Rehabilitation provides greater public safety and greater cost effectiveness than continual use of incarceration.

The Advocates feel that the perception of public protection appears to be the focus of the proposed changes more than the actual protection of citizens.

Information about youth courts and corrections demonstrate that there are consequences for youth who break the law. Canada has the highest rate of youth incarceration in the Western world, over twice the rate of the United States (John Howard Society, 1996). Saskatchewan has the highest rate of incarceration of youth aged 12 - 17 and the highest youth criminal charge rate per hundred thousand of any jurisdiction in Canada (1995).

"The public deserves to know the real facts about youth and crime", stated Judy Finlay, Chief Advocate, Office of Child and Family Service Advocacy in Ontario. "Actual statistics do not support the public's perception of increased youth crime." 1997 Canadian Crime Statistics (Juristat, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics) indicate that: In 1997, Canada's police-reported crime rate decreased for the sixth year in a
row, falling 5% - the lowest rate since 1980. Violent crimes declined for the fifth consecutive year. The rate of youths charged with Criminal Code offences fell 7% - representing a 12% decrease in property crime and a 2% decrease in violent offences. Adult crime represents 71.5% of all Criminal Code, federal and provincial statutes charges and 83.8% of violent crime charges in Canada.

While recognizing the need for public safety, changes to the Young Offenders Act must include options to assist young people in taking meaningful responsibility for their actions. Alternative sentencing options need to be provided that promote responsible citizenship and reduce recidivism rates.

"We must remember that a high percentage of young people who commit crimes are themselves victims. They have been repeatedly victimized by poverty, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, and exposure to family violence," stated Dr. Parker Loewen, Children's Advocate for the Province of Saskatchewan. "These children and youth are experiencing difficulty because we, as a society, have failed to address their problems earlier in life."

Through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada committed to promoting programs respecting the dignity of children and youth. The justice system must ensure that adequate resources are available for prevention programs and for the treatment and rehabilitation of children who come in conflict with the law.

The Canadian Council of Provincial Children's Advocates is an informal association of Provincial Advocates representing the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The Council is dedicated to the voice and rights of children.

For Read More ..formation, please contact:
Sharon Chapman Communications and Public Education Coordinator Saskatchewan
Children's Advocate Office Phone: (306) 933-6706 Fax: (306) 933-8406