I'm not a lawyer, but I'm an advocate. I'm going to start with a quotation from Michele Landsberg: “So that's our Canadian contradiction: every time we're confronted with the results of our dysfunctional 'tough on youth crime' approach, we call for more and tougher punishments.” That was 1999. It hasn't changed.
I have a story, which I will end with. During the last ten years of the last century we appeared at every inquest on a young child who had died in the care of the state. And bit by bit, we found that the way in which to change what was happening at the inquest and to let people's hands get off the evidence and stop controlling the evidence in the public was to bring along a team of young people to listen, who had the same experiences as the people who had died in custody, to give evidence to the lawyer that she could use in the inquest. Bit by bit, we found that was the way to get truth into the situation, because the whole protective wall was taken down.
The final inquest was the Meffe inquest at the end of the nineties. The outcome was that the jury asked for immediate closure of the institution, and the Toronto Youth Detention Centre closed as a consequence of that. Since then, another major detention home has opened in Ontario, and that home has already collected many indications that putting kids in jail is the last thing you would do with them--the very last thing you do with them. It's dangerous, expensive, wasteful, and those kids are our children.
When I came to Canada in 1959 I came to work with delinquents, and I was amazed. The first person I met was a little boy, 14 years old, shuffling around in irons with two huge gun-carrying guards beside him. It was Steven Truscott. Over and over again.... I opened a little place called White Oaks in Ontario, and we brought in the children who were under 12--all of them were under 12--from different parts of Ontario, who had been sentenced for up to two years. The first two who walked through the door were two little brothers from Red Lake who could barely speak English, and they were there for an indeterminate amount of time. They were there, in fact, for about three weeks, and we got them right back to a home and to a different, decent kind of existence.
It was just frightening to me at that time, and I've never ceased to be shocked since with what I see when I go and visit people in institutions. I still work with people who come out of institutions and I see the damage it has done to them, and it's all done in the culture.
You can change all the laws you want, but unless you change the culture in institutions and the culture of this province in looking at crime and criminal behaviour, you're not going to change anything. Because that culture seizes the institution and controls it. As we used to say to the guards, “You don't run this institution. You know who runs it. The inmates run it.”
I will leave it at that, except that what I object to personally, and what DCI objects to, is the vindictiveness of the legislation, in our view. The way of looking at young people who are still children, still under 18, by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.... This document, for some reason, seems to have been pushed into the background in Canada, although to me it's the greatest document in the history of human rights that this world has produced. Even bringing that into play could change a whole lot of things, if it was rightly and properly done.