Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What to say about Vic and the kids?

Babble on.

I'm all for accountability, and I'm all for learning about consequences at a young age. Caring for kids isn't the same as giving them unlimited licence to do whatever they please; in fact, caring for kids expressly calls for instilling a sense of accountability in them that prepares them for responsible adulthood. On the basis of that, you'd think I'd be in favour of Justice Minister Vic Toews' plan to allow the legal system to address crime in kids down to the age of ten. Actually, I'm leery.

Chris Selley takes a run at Toews' position in a piece today, and I find myself in agreement with much of what Chris says. What Tart Cider doesn't do, however, is acknowledge in any real way the legitimate concerns that have prompted Toews' move. Today's Calgary Herald does, though:

Several years ago, when Winnipeg was plagued with a rash of car thefts by under-12s, police expressed their frustration at their inability to deal with these kids who, when caught, brazenly told the officers they knew the law couldn't do anything to them. Police dubbed one of the repeat offenders the Tiny Terror, but they had to wait until he turned 12 before they could formally charge him. In 2005, Brian Smiley, a spokesman for the Manitoba Public Insurance Corp., said: "We hear of kids as young as nine and 10 years old getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and driving it."

Adults would have to be in the throes of extreme naivete to believe these kids don't understand that stealing a car is wrong. Or that the 11-year-old arrested last year in Burnaby, B.C., in connection with a series of armed muggings didn't know it's wrong to threaten people with a knife and take their money. Yet, all police could do was release the child to his family.

Those who dismiss these examples as isolated incidents have a point, although not quite the point they believe they do. It's true that you don't turn an entire justice system upside down because the Calgary Herald quotes two examples of kids not responding to the current system. But talk to a primary school teacher, and you'll find that these are simply the most extreme examples of a widely acknowedged trend that sees parental control declining as state control in schools, law enforcement, and child welfare agencies becomes increasingly toothless and ineffective. Just because too much fear is decidedly a bad thing, doesn't mean a touch of fear of authority isn't a good thing in a child - and on this front, the battle isn't running in society's favour.

Releasing a young but delinquent child to his or her family simply isn't enough these days, especially in instances where violent or repeated crimes have been committed.

But is the answer to this real issue to have the heavy-handed justice system intervene? It seems to me that Toews' biggest problem is that he sees this issue as a nail, and as Justice Minister, he thinks he's holding an awfully big hammer.

"The theory is that the child welfare system will take care of those children, but that is not the case in most provinces," [Toews] said. "In most provinces, in fact, the child welfare system is allowing criminal conduct to continue among those types of children."

This illustrates the weakness of his position. Throwing kids to the courts to prevent continuing criminal conduct can only plausibly be projected to work if the criminal justice system in this country isn't "allowing criminal conduct to continue" among adult offenders as well. And that is decidedly not the case in Canada. So why does Toews think he can fix problems for kids that his justice system can't even fix for adults?

The real answer to this problem, as with most problems involving kids, starts at home with parents. Parenting isn't an easy task, but I firmly believe it's the most important one anyone with kids faces in their life. Setting limits and enforcing them, following through with consequences to kids' actions - good and bad alike, and giving children love without giving them unlimited licence is essential.

But as you can't legislate good parenting beyond some incredibly broad strokes (your child must be fed, you must not endanger your child, etc), what is a government to do? Well, it could start with strengthening the ability of schools to reinforce good parenting instead of undermining it. Teachers' hands are tied in many respects when it comes to enforcing good behaviour in the classroom and schoolyard. I'm not talking about a return to the strap, but something more than "Johnny, that's not very nice" is needed. And yes, I do understand that changes to the country's school systems don't fall within the Justice Minister's purview.

Another thing government could do is bolster the child welfare infrastructure. Minster Toews himself admits that part of the impetus for his proposed changes stems from a perception that some kids simply slip through the cracks between child welfare and the YCJA. If the child welfare system isn't shouldering their load, the logical response would be to encourage, cajole, or force it to do so. But again, changes of that nature aren't up to Canada's Minister of Justice.

So what should Toews do? He should show some restraint. Nothing within his repertoire as the elected head of Canada's legal system is going to be useful here, and accordingly, he needs to resist the urge to 'do something.' His proposed cure will not ameliorate the situation a bit, and it may even worsen the disease.

Instead, he should advocate the changes that will lead to less people ending up in his criminal justice system at all. Advocating isn't exciting, but surely a Conservative would understand that some things are the proper responsibility of someone else.

Babble off.


At 3:57 p.m., Blogger GritPatriot said...

Vic is in over his head as minister of Justice. Prentice would have been a better choice.

On the other hand, Vic has shown that he fight to make illegal that which is already illegal. Street racing, Vic's greatest crusade, is already illegal as dangerous driving, criminal negligence (causing bodily harm or death), manslaughter and careless driving.

He should stick to what he is good at: useless laws and committing election finance fraud.

At 4:05 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

GritPatriot, you're obviously an idiot, bent on being critical to whatever Toews proposes regardless of its objective merits or drawbacks. Go sell Liberal somewhere else.

At 7:22 p.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

I liked Tarantino's criticism in the comments to that post. Remind me why he quit blogging again?

At 9:52 p.m., Blogger Road Hammer said...

Well said, Damian. Government can only do so much which is why I think that as much as political activism can be a force for good, character and values are very much dependent on what goes on in the home. Getting government to do what parents sometimes won't or can't, for whatever reason, is a failure waiting to happen.

To borrow a phrase from Myron Thompson, we on the right have our fair share of social engineers ourselves.

At 12:38 a.m., Blogger Sean McCormick said...

Maybe it's time to give back parents some of their authority? The government has been busy chipping away at it for years.

At 9:03 a.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

Government has not taken anything from parents and Toews has as much meddled in an area outside his jurisdiction with this proposal.

But the more interesting thing is that, while there are sensational crimes that will back anything, the rise in crime is likely concurrent with "zero tolerance" programs in which the old habits of cops sending the kids back to the parents for a strict response has fallen by the way side. Without the option to warn a simple warning is no longer given, kids get processed and stats go up. It may reflect an increase in criminalization of the normal moderately bastardly activity of early teens as much as anything else. The crime control model creating its own demand.

At 10:22 a.m., Blogger Alan said...

What are the real statistics on pre-teen crime? My understanding was that crime in Canada is generally trending downward, with exceptions in certain areas/demographics.

To the extent that crime among children is curtailable, the only hope rests with parents. Permissiveness in child rearing has been the norm for decades. It will not change quickly, if at all, and is unlikely to be affected by government policy to any great extent.

Toews means well, I'm sure, but the net effect of any changes he makes on crime will likely not be statistically significant.

We can't blame the government for everything that happens, any more than we can rely on it to solve all (or even most) of our problems.



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