Arguing with 15 year old me–The Young Offender’s Act

On my last trip to my parent’s house, I grabbed a couple of my old Social Studies 10 essays that I had written. I did quite well in Social Studies and was quite proud of my essays, a belief justified by the marks I tended to get.

This first essay, on the Young Offender’s Act, received a perfect 10/10, but on re-reading it, I am quite disappointed in my fallacious 15-year old mind. First the essay, then my comments.

The Canadian Young Offenders Act
By Ian Bush?eld October 18, 2001

The Young Offenders Act (YOA), which came into effect in April of 1984, was designed to deal with crimes committed by people aged 12 to 17. Ideally it provides for the special needs of youths, as well as protects society and the victims. The act, however, does not run ideally. But for the most part it satisfactorily deals with teenaged criminals.

The ?rst ineffective part of the Act is that it fails to have any effect on people under the age of 12. The former Juvenile Delinquents Act used ages of 11 and 18, but this is still not young enough. Children at age 8 (and in some cases younger) are more than well aware of their actions. They are just as responsible for their actions as older youths. In the video “Old Enough To Hurt” a situation was portrayed where Kim, age 11, was a participant in a murder-robbery. The other culprits at the scene were all charged with partaking in a crime, Kim however, as responsible as the rest, was released to his parents
custody with nothing less than a slap on the wrist. How will he learn the error of his wrongdoings without proper and due punishment? There is a high probability that Kim will re-offend, so why is it he gets no punishment what so ever? The act requires an amendment to deal with younger offenders. Why not leave it to a judge to decide whether or not a person involved in a crime is responsible for his/her actions? But with the current system Kim gets away free, without any counselling or punishment for him to learn from and the Act has also failed to protect society.

In the case of M., an angered teenager shot and killed both his mother and sister. He was tried in youth court, as the Crown’s request for the trial to be transferred to adult court was denied, and given 3 years in jail. In adult court he would have doubtlessly received life imprisonment. The reason for this was that the judge believed that M. could be treated therapeutically in counselling sessions provided by youth correctional facilities. It is beyond any doubt that in this case the Y.O.A. has failed terribly. Society is at danger with a person like this receiving so little punishment for such atrocities. What is basically being told to criminals like this is that the Y.O.A. punishment system is a joke and that crimes go unpunished towards youths in this country. Instances like this are appalling and demand changes be made to the current system.

The last problem seen about the Y.O.A. is that it deems that the media is forbidden to release any information as soon as a youth is involved. In a recent vicious murder in South Calgary, a teenager killed his own mother. Do people in the surrounding neighbourhoods have a right to know if their children were playing with this murderer? Apparently not, according to the Y.O.A. Also with this case, the name of the mother had been released in early morning, before they suspected the youth, and once the son had been taken into custody all information on the case was banned from the media. One would think that once the name had been announced on television that it wouldn’t matter anymore and you wouldn’t need to prohibit it from being used again. As well, friends of the deceased or accused have no way of ?nding out what happened, do they as well have no right to know what happened. It’s too bad though that even though our Charter of Rights and Freedoms promises us open media that we are forbidden to hear certain, information through the presses and news releases.

As you can tell, there are several major dysfunctions with the Y.O.A. that need severe political revision. It was a good concept and has many valuable parts that are quite effective, but the truth of the matter is that without reworking the act will continually fail to protect the needs of youths, society and the victims of the crimes committed. We must strive to enact changes to the Y.O.A. or suffer the consequences of unpunished criminals believing they can do and get away with anything.

Some context: I grew up in Southern Alberta and an earlier essay I penned (I think it was in grade 9) was about how I would vote for the Reform Party because Albertans didn’t have an effective voice in Ottawa during the Chretien majority eras (one could argue they still don’t under the current regime). My predisposition then was toward small-c conservative thinking, evidenced here by my references to due punishments and the rights of victims. It’s quite disappointing to see myself dismiss counselling and youth correctional facilities in favour of some retributive punishment of a teenager. The evidence is quite strong now that such thinking only leads to hardened lifelong criminals.

But perhaps I’m most disappointed by my contradictory statements. Take the previous example, of the teenager being sentenced to counselling, compared to the very previous paragraph which ends asking “why not leave it to a judge to decide whether or not a person in a crime is responsible for his/her actions?” Even at 15-years old, I should have been able to spot the blatant contradiction between granting judicial freedom and demanding harsher punishment. It’s as though I was willing to let judges make decisions only when they agreed with my preconceived notions (a very conservative way of thinking).

Similarly, my thesis statement in the first paragraph calls the act satisfactory but not ideal, while the concluding paragraph decries “several major dysfunctions” with the act and that “without reworking [it] will continually fail to protect the needs of youths, society, and the victims of the crimes.” Either the act is okay, or its a total toss. Obviously, I can change my mind while writing an essay, but generally you would think I would go back and revise my introduction in light of my revised thinking. Of course, this is merely evidence that I tended to write my essays in a single draft since apparently such issues went unpunished by my teachers.

At the very least, I recognized the importance of press freedom in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The other essays I dug up (all from Social 10) are position papers on Louis Riel and Canada-US relations and a research report on “The Great War of the Air” during World War I. I’ll try to get to posting a couple of them in the next few days.

2 thoughts on “Arguing with 15 year old me–The Young Offender’s Act”

  1. It would be more disappointing if your views haven’t evolve since you were 15. I know I was a lot more black-and-white about crime and punishment back in the day, and I think that comes from lacking an understanding of the nuances of justice (that has developed as time goes on). Being surrounded by relatively affluent people and getting news from media with a simplistic narrative also doesn’t help with developing empathy.

    On a side note, it’s interesting your OCR (I assume) rendered “fi” as “?”.

  2. Maybe I’m too much of a bleeding heart, but I think it’s a travesty to expect children and teenagers to suffer adult consequences for their actions when we’re not willing to allow them to consume alcohol, smoke a cigarette, buy a lottery ticket, vote in an election, run for political office, or sign a contract. Even if I were for the death penalty, for instance, I’d be mortified of the idea of executing an American before age 21.

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