Renewed calls for stiffer penalties for serious youth offenders

SASKATOON – A 13-year-old Warman, Sask. boy’s alleged attack on a classmate Friday night has left members of his home community in a state of shock.

His tender age, and also the age of the victim, has prompted a number of questions to resurface.

Chief among them is whether youth should face tougher legal consequences when they commit serious offences.

Last month, six-year-old Lee Bonneau was killed on the Kahkewistahaw First Nation in Saskatchewan. After an investigation, police concluded the culprit in that crime under the age of 12.

“One thing you don’t want to do, in my view, is to use one or two sensational cases and say we’re going to create a wholesale change in the law,” said Sanjeev Anand, dean at the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.

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“The latest statistics show there is no crisis of young people committing violent offences, particularly those under the age of 12.”

In May 1998, the Canadian government launched its youth justice renewal initiative, which led to the development of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The Act became law in April 2003, replacing the Young Offenders Act.

During that time, there was some discussion about changing the age jurisdiction for those who committed serious or personal injury offences to 10 years old. Anand said that faced strident opposition from MPs in Quebec.

The Warman boy, who cannot be named since he is subject to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has been charged with attempted murder. Anand believes there are several reasons why that charge was laid, as opposed to aggravated assault.

“If the stabbing occurs in a vital part of the body, that might be indicative of an intent to kill, so that’s first and foremost,” he told Global News.

Anand said there is also the potential for greater leeway when it comes to plea bargaining. An attempted murder charge would land a youth, if found guilty, a three-year disposition.

“For attempted murder, it’s up to the judge to see how much of that three-year disposition is served in the community and how much is served in custody.”

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