Getting away with murder

Lee Lamothe
The Next City
September 21, 1996

Young criminals today have too many rights and not enough responsibilities

Discussion

THE ROOM, SET ASIDE TO HEAR YOUNG OFFENDER CASES at the Scarborough, Ontario, courthouse, is called the Yo-Yo court. The room, always crowded, is especially cramped today. Several reporters are present, mingling with the families of accused teens and the families of the victims.

There’s a dirty little story unfolding, and by any standards it’s a nasty piece of business.

The background is simple: A group of youths, one of them a 12-year-old boy, cooked up something like a plan in a stairwell near the victim’s apartment. The 12-year-old, known to the victim’s family, got a resident of the apartment, a 16-year-old girl, to open the door. The others forced their way in. One had a shotgun. The girl took a blast in the abdomen and died of massive trauma, gunshot.

Two accused 17-year-olds are in the dock; the 12-year-old is still loose and will be picked up the next week. The victim is in the morgue. By all accounts she’d been a fine daughter and a good sister, a pretty fair student and the moral anchor of a family adrift in public housing, kept afloat by government funding.

The sounds in Yo-Yo court are those reserved for the lower bowels of the legal system: the first-appearance and bail courts where people are notified late and arrive uncertain of their roles in the proceedings. Shuffling paper, shifting feet, mutters and yawns and the nervous clearing of throats. A faint snore. The courtroom smells of cheap colognes and perfumes, tobacco, the minted odor of alcohol.

In the public gallery, the victim’s mother, shock and rage and sadness chasing each other across her face, stares intently at the accused teens sitting in the dock. Her body language speaks of slumping grief and an alert strangling anger.

The teens appear fairly indifferent to it all. They seem to lounge and roll and bop, wearing who-me? expressions on their faces as they look over their audience. They bear no sign of shame, remorse or even embarrassment.

One of the accused leans back in the dock, stares at the victim’s mother and deliberately raises his middle finger.

A female court officer tells him: “Have a little respect.”

The victim’s mother gasps and quickly leaves the courtroom.

After the victim’s mother returns, the judge walks in like a man who firmly believes he’s in charge of something. The hearing is brief: The accused are remanded into custody.

Next week the 12-year-old will appear. For the mother he’ll have a big sweet smile.

FRANK TOOPE WAS 75 YEARS OLD WHEN HE DIED; HIS WIFE, JOCELYN, 70. Between them they had lived almost a century and a half. Frank Toope was, until a late night in April 1994, a retired Anglican priest. The couple lived in Beaconsfield, Quebec. Both had lived lives of community service, service to God. They’d paid their taxes and done no harm.

On the night the Toopes died, three teenagers, aged 13 to 15, broke into their home. They brought with them a baseball bat and empty beer bottles. Jocelyn Toope woke first to find a 13-year-old standing over her bed. She was struck eight times in the head; five of the blows killed her. Frank Toope woke up fighting. Blows hit his face, arms, hands and chest. He was battered to death with the baseball bat. Post-mortem photographs look like stills from a boxing movie.

At first, police believed the motive was robbery: Several small items and the Toopes’ car had been taken. But they later learned that the teens, one showing off a bloody baseball bat, had bragged about the murders the day after. One commented he had just wanted to see what it felt like to kill somebody. It was a thrill kill; robbery was merely an afterthought.

“It was just a big joke to them,” a police investigator on the case said. “They said they did it for kicks.”

At their first court appearance, while waiting to be processed, the teens played cards and gave the finger to reporters. In March this year, the youngest killer was sentenced to the then maximum under the Young Offenders Act: three years closed custody, and two years probation. He showed no signs of anything: no remorse, no fear. Nothing. He was a void.

What’s going on here? Even in a society that minimizes murders committed by young people, that provides built-in excuses for those murderers, that’s willing to shoulder the blame for all the ills of its citizens, even in that society there should be a demand for remorse or regret.

GETTING A READING ON YOUTH CRIME, PARTICULARLY YOUTH VIOLENCE and ganging, is a cruise through still waters of statistics and analyses: theories, percentiles, case files, texts, subtexts, charts and graphs and talking heads.

When young Bobby bursts from the flower of his youth and runs criminally amok in an episode of violence, he is either a bad little bastard who’s playing the system for all it’s worth, or he’s socially deprived of internal awareness of his role and true status in society. He’s a greedy thieving little moron, or he’s the victim of interfamilial conflict leading to a feeling of negative function within his core group. He’s a heartless cold-blooded killer, or he’s an anger-driven subject who, on a subconscious and inarticulate level, feels he’s a lost voice in a hailstorm of opposing arguments between the child within and the emerging adult. He’s a predatory rapist, or he’s experiencing meltdown at his emotional core, a collapsing-in of the walls of his emotions. In the world of crime theorists, there are examinations of role conflicts, Marxism and financial empowerment, role socialization and structure, interactionisms and ethnographics. Errant synapses in the brain.

Whatever. It’s either Bobby’s fault, those actions he takes, or it isn’t. It might be that he’s a victim of something or someone. Of a sugar diet or a Wes Craven spatter movie; of video games or too much or too little parental input. The end result is a confused youth who becomes convinced that what he does results from the actions of others, that the responsibility for his actions lies far beyond his own control. Even his own actions become the property of someone else’s theories of behavior, the subject of someone else’s studies and interpretations.

The tough decision for society is whether or not all those things matter. But it seems to me that anyone who can conjure up the image of a 15-year-old boy, standing over the fractured bodies of two elderly murder victims with broken pieces of a baseball bat embedded in their skulls, anyone who can imagine the killer with the victims’ blood splashed on his face and clothes, anyone who can envision all that and not be completely clear about who the true victim is, that person has passed through the looking glass.

ONCE AS A YOUNG REPORTER, I CHANCED UPON A HANDCUFFED MURDER suspect being escorted into a downtown police building. The man wasn’t totally coherent. He had his shoes on the wrong feet and was obviously exhausted, having spent several hours painstakingly fashioning a confession that would convict him. The homicide detectives were upbeat and expansive. Their average was down for the first half of that year, and this self-solving groundball, this shoobeedoo, would get the boss off their backs for a while.

The man glared at me as I chatted with the detectives. Finally, he spoke something like, “You think I’m shit, don’t you?”

Startled by the interruption, I turned to him. “Buddy, I don’t even know you.”

“You know what I did. I killed my wife. I cut her throat.”

I felt strangely embarrassed for him.

“With a beer bottle. She was sleeping.”

He heated up a little and the detectives leaned into him. I said the first thing that came into my mind: “Hey, it could happen to anyone, right?”

Later, one of the detectives told me the husband and wife had a long history of acrimony: burnt pork chops, paycheques gambled away, booze and other women, booze and other men.

It was a senseless crime, but at the same time it makes a kind of sense, on some level, for some people in certain circumstances. You can die violently for a lot of reasons. Money or sex or revenge or rage. Or pork chops burnt and paycheques wagered away. It happens. It isn’t right or just, but in there somewhere a reason puts the act into its place. The domestics, the mob hits, street fights and gang fights, sex slayings. A lot of victims were to some degree architects of their own misfortune. Others wore an unhealthy lack of luck about them. Killers’ motives run the gamut from sexual to commercial, from drunken imaginings to psychosis. Even the most crazy, those who heard voices during out-of-body experiences, at least believed their actions had a purpose.

But to get killed because someone is curious, or needs a thrill, is to come face-to-face with youth violence.

THERE ARE CASES UPON CASES ACROSS THE COUNTRY. Kids alone killing other kids; packs of kids swarming grown-ups. Students robbed and beaten murderously for their Reeboks or their Bulls jackets. Glances of “dis,” disrespect, leading to fatal or near fatal knifings. “Hoodies,” teens in baggy pants and oversized hooded sweatshirts, carving out neighborhood and schoolyard territory with knives, bats and guns. The U.S. had a couple of grisly teen and pre-teen murderers. Britain convulsed over the killing of a young child by two pre-teens. Kids who go out of the loop, who soar off the dial and kill, seemingly without reason.

Social workers and much of the media are quick to say that this is nothing new, that senseless youth violence has existed for decades. Only because of the immediacy of information, the theory goes, do we now become more outraged.

But it’s more than that. An out-of-control segment of society seems to be reverting to some kind of Stone Age mentality where life is so devalued that it’s lost all value. Despite the Young Offenders Act and the legal rights it gives young people. Despite the social safety net. Despite safe-schools policies and decades of study by social scientists and criminologists.

Unless the offender is accountable for his actions — punished whenever he’s guilty and rehabilitated whenever it’s possible — society is telling him, and us all, that the lives he’s taken are of secondary importance. The world of juvenile justice becomes some kind of amusement park where, if the customer can’t afford the ticket price, we’ll lower it until the ride is marked down to zero. The end result: The only things that matter are his whims. We excuse his ravages solely because he wants. We want his business, even if it puts the rest of us out of business.

By depriving him of the need to take responsibility for his actions, by excusing him and putting the blame on society at large, we’re at the least permitting those actions, and at worst even encouraging them.

Someone, somewhere, has studied every minute aspect of the violence of the young. There are experts galore. Even when they disagree with each other, they footnote each other to death. Everyone reads statistics by a different light. After weeks of research at libraries and talking to people, you find common sense becomes the first casualty. On a mean-spirited day you conclude that the experts have made themselves a little cottage industry out of studying the problem, and that they’re only in it for the bucks. On a charitable day you conclude that they mean well, but that they affect youth violence as much as the weatherman affects an approaching hurricane.

Whether statistics are good news or bad news is largely a matter of interpretation. If eight kids were charged with killings in 1984 and eight kids charged in 1995, this is either a good thing for society, in that things aren’t getting worse, or a bad thing, in that they aren’t getting better. If a dozen teens were charged with assaults in Vancouver high schools in 1990, and 10 times that amount in 1995, some will attribute the increase to strict enforcement by police through a safe-schools policy. Ergo, things aren’t any worse; in fact, maybe they’re better.

In 1985, a youth kills a gas station attendant during a scuffle in a robbery. In 1995, a youth stabs another to death because he wants the victim’s baseball cap. Both years’ stats register one murder, but the motivations are vastly different. Statistics show quantity, not quality.

There are two widely divided camps when it comes to understanding youth crime. One camp believes that society is to blame, that the offender is a victim or product of a greater ill, that major changes to the fabric of society will prevent the development of antisocial teens who themselves are the true victims. If the juvenile crime rate goes up, it’s because of more bad social policies, not more bad kids.

The other camp believes that individuals are responsible for their own actions, that the individuals made choices, acted on them, and now must be made to pay the price.

The problem for most of us is the experts’ interpretations. One side seems to pat us on the head and go, “It’s complicated, you don’t understand, and besides, it’s very expensive.” The other side, it seems, plays to our fears and prejudices, plays our strings as if we’re some kind of puppets, and says, “We need more money for police and prisons to deal with these criminals.”

One side thinks we’re stupid and the other side thinks we’re gullible.

Whatever. We’re either too tough already on kids, or we’re not tough enough. We should spend more money on prevention and less on punishment, or we should hang the bastards, try ’em and fry ’em. Cane them, send them to the Gulag, or hug them more, dialogue and interface. After a while, it all sounds like the quacking of ducks.

IF YOU STAGGER IN DISBELIEF AFTER SPENDING TIME IN YOUTH COURTS, you’ve got the Romans to thank for it. As far back as the fifth century BC, they decided to separate the men from the boys, as it were, under Roman law. The theory was that the older criminals would do nothing but corrupt and harm the young impressionable miscreants.

Somebody probably thought it made good sense at the time. But so did dunking witches in deep water to see if they sank, burning adulteresses and voting Reform.

The notion of little rascals needing to be kept away from big brutes calls to mind an image of pale, frail youngsters battling the mean meat-eaters for control of their tender bodies and unformed psyches. But the starting lineup at youth court belies that image: A sullen parade of vacant boy-monsters towers over their guards and, under the right circumstances, would give a pro wrestler pause.

One young specimen, idling his way through a court break at 311 Jarvis Street in downtown Toronto, stood an even six feet and didn’t weigh much less than 200 pounds. This current charge, he said, was for aggravated assault. It was his third time through the system and he wasn’t particularly worried. He spoke for $5 and some cigarettes. He figured if he went away this time, it might be for three months. “Out in time for summer.”

I asked him what he thought of the Young Offenders Act.

“It’s good. I’m just a kid, right? Like, I don’t know what I’m doing until I’m 18.”

I asked him what protections he had under the YOA.

“Long’s I don’t kill somebody, or fuck them up too badly, they can’t give me more than three years. They can’t put my name on TV or my picture. Gimmee a lawyer.”

I asked him the first line of O Canada.

“Fuck you.”

IT FEELS ODD WRITING ABOUT YOUTH CRIME. In the late 1950s and early 1960s I was quite the youth crime myself. It was a fairly simple proposition then: If you got away, you got away. If you got caught, you paid. Often on the spot if the cop or your parent was feeling so inclined. A slap in the head, a half-hour up-close-and-personal discussion where the subject wasn’t “Do you feel disenfranchised by society?” but rather “How come you’re such a little jerk?”

On those occasions when I didn’t get away and didn’t get dealt with on the spot, I went into the system, straight from court to training school.

One night in 1960, with another runaway named Shaky Joe, I stood in an alleyway waiting to mug someone. Shaky Joe had a sock full of sand. The plan was simplicity itself: A drunk would stagger by, Shaky Joe would swing the sock, the drunk would go down and we’d loot his pockets. Like most plans of the evil at heart it went badly sideways for us. Shaky hit the guy in the shoulder, rendering him fully awake. When he finished tuning us up, Shaky had a broken arm and I was inhaling my own blood. The drunk didn’t call the cops; he went through our pockets.

But it isn’t hard to extrapolate a different set of events. Shaky Joe hits the guy a little more efficiently, killing him. And we wind up doing time for murder.

And why not? It was unthinkable then, and it is to me now, to say that we were misunderstood by society, that we didn’t have enough calcium in our diets, that we couldn’t afford underwear because we were the victims of a capitalist system. We were bad kids doing bad things, and we got caught and paid the price. Action and reaction: You cook it, you eat it. Simplicity itself.

On Halloween day 1961, I got my first up-close look at the juvenile justice system. I’d been charged under the Juvenile Delinquents Act, the forerunner to the Young Offenders Act, and was riding up in a car with two guards to a training school near Bowmanville to begin an indefinite sentence. The trip was the first of several I’d take before I turned 16; in all, I’d spend all but a few seasons of my adolescence in one training school or another. I wouldn’t pass Grade 9, I’d have no skills.

Under the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA), youths who were in conflict with the law weren’t criminals but “. . . in a condition of delinquency and therefore requiring help, guidance and proper supervision.” It was pretty cut-and-dried. A young person — the lower age was seven and the upper age varied across the country — might be in conflict with society for reasons beyond his control. A bad or dangerous family life, a social group that encouraged misbehavior, even poor nutrition and truancy could be behind antisocial behavior. A young person could be removed from those situations and placed in foster homes or training schools. The stated aim was to save wayward youth, to provide them with a structure in which they could be rehabilitated and redeem themselves.

The theory of the JDA was sound, but in practice it was unevenly applied. The juvenile court system often took evidence only from probation and police officers. The youth had few legal rights and, indeed, under the spirit of the JDA, didn’t need them. He was before the youth court to receive treatment, not punishment. A youth appearing for, say, truancy or being unmanageable or vagrant, often found himself flipping a coin: The judge could send him home with a tongue-lashing or to a training school for an indefinite term.

But the “treatment-welfare” philosophy of the JDA came under attack, particularly in the 1970s. The act itself was seen to be paternalistic, the judges were seen to be acting with too much power. One third of teens released from training schools wound up on unemployment or back in bad family situations, their lack of rights a scandal.

Lawyers began agitating for legal rights for youths, and by the time the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enshrined, the JDA was falling apart, under attack from all sides. The federal and provincial governments, police and social welfare agencies and other interested parties spent almost 20 years wrestling with changes. They came up with the Young Offenders Act of 1984.

The YOA adopted a justice-oriented model as opposed to the welfare type. Not everybody liked it. Social workers decried lost ground, because the YOA put too much emphasis on the offence and not enough on the offender. Police saw the act as a step in the right direction, but disliked its sentencing provisions: Murder could only be punishable by three years in custody. They especially disliked the slew of new legal rights, among them a youth’s right to a lawyer and the right to be cautioned about those rights before police questioning. What was once an easy hit for police, to have a suspect with none of the protections of law, became a legalistic wrangle of lawyers, warnings and bail hearings.

Grumbling led to amendments to parts of the YOA, particularly where the public outcry became loudest: sentencing. In 1992, the maximum term for murder went from three to five years; in 1995, it went to 10. The 1995 amendments also reversed the onus: now 16- and 17-year-olds automatically went into the adult justice system for serious crimes like rape, aggravated assault, and murder, unless the offenders could convince the court to try them in the juvenile system.

But with all the changes, we have ended up with legislation that isn’t working to anyone’s satisfaction. Police and the public still believe that the kids are getting away with murder; social workers believe that we’re clogging the juvenile justice system with minor charges and leaving no money for rehabilitation.

And they’re all correct. The YOA is as unworkable and unfair as the old JDA. Kids are committing ever more heinous crimes and don’t seem to be getting either the punishment or rehabilitation they deserve. Too many minor offenders who could be diverted into probation, community work or counselling go into the system. Keeping kids out of jail would free funds to deal with the teenage predators, those few who practise violence purely for the sake of violence. And to deal with kids who need a close-control setting, the way I needed it. Kids who repeatedly struggle against the law need a disciplined structure, conducive to self-reflection, away from the family or the neighborhood.

My three lockups were probably the best treatment for what I did. Society saw I was in a tough situation and removed me from it. It planted my butt on a chair in a schoolroom and threw Grade 9 at me three times. I ate food that was good for me, did enough sports so that when I went to bed at night I slept well. I learned the balance between duties and privileges. I learned that the world was larger than my neighborhood: One custodian was a former marine, a member of John F. Kennedy’s honor guard; another was a former construction worker who’d lived all over the Middle East and Africa and had hours of colorful stories about strange cultures.

The people I’d offended on the outside were pleased to see me on the inside. They were convinced I’d been punished and they were happy with the system. There was a clear line in my life. Before 16, I was a juvenile and could get, indeed could demand, guidance. And after 16, I would be playing in a whole new, much tougher ball game.

At root, the problem with the way we treat young offenders rests outside the Young Offenders Act. The fault lies with society’s failure to draw the line between being a child and being an adult. The failure in serious cases to put the public welfare above the welfare of the offender. The failure to recognize that some people of very young age have flatlined out for whatever reason and are devoid of emotion or of caring for other people’s suffering. The failure to recognize that there are steps youths can take that should put them beyond the reach of sympathy and understanding, that at some point their violent actions won’t be neatly boxed, studied and justified in the light of someone else’s actions.

IT’S THESE “FLATLINERS,” AS THE POLICE CALL THEM, THE ONE or two per cent of predatory offenders who approach or cross the line of murder, rape and torture who aren’t being dealt with harshly enough by the juvenile justice system.

Statistics show that 90 per cent of males shoplift at one time or another during their lives; many commit other minor crimes like shoppliftimg, joyriding and getting into scuffles. The range of testosterone flexing. Really, who cares? A shoplifter can be made to provide restitution; a joyrider can be made to pay for any damages to the vehicle or to wash it for a year for the owner; scufflers can be made to clean up boxing gyms where the real tough guys are.

Programs can deal with problems as they arise. When an escalating cycle of gang violence and extortions broke out in Toronto’s school system in 1989, police put together a program to settle it down. After negotiations with very reluctant school boards, youthful-looking officers went into the schools and talked. They talked about how retaliation between gangs made the situation worse, they discouraged the carrying of weapons, they convinced the students that the police would act on their behalf. School staff was brought on board and a partnership was formed. After several highly public arrests, some of the worst schools settled down, and the students became empowered in their own environment. Attacking each element of juvenile violence with case-specific solutions can clean up much of the run-of-the-mill juvenile, antisocial and criminal activity.

But the system fails badly in catching teenagers before delinquency becomes a habit. For most kids, just one contact with the system, if it deals with them firmly, will make them realize they’re out of line. A first offender made to make good on damages or lose part of his summer to unpaid public service will more than likely realize he’s involved in a losing game.

But the important thing here is “firmly.” There should be no “Go away and don’t do it again.” Instead, that single act should result in a punishment, a cost, if only to let the offender know that he has our attention, that he’s not being ignored or fluffed off. If a young person goes into the system three times, then there’s a larger problem that demands a larger solution: a boot camp or a training facility. As it is now, teens often pass through juvenile courts several times before getting the full attention of the law.

When it comes to killers and rapists, we should remember our priorities. Some people are too dangerous to be free, and sometimes those people are teenagers or even children. Many children are immigrants from violent societies. Many children are victims of sexual abuse and physical violence. Many children are parented by adults who are polluted by drugs and alcohol.

What do you do with a teenager who laughs and jokes and appears totally unaware of the results of his actions? Does it matter that he’s had a hard life, an abused life, or a problem with drugs or booze? It might not feel right, but maybe we have to accept that some people are broken. We do our best to put them back together, and if it can’t be done, then it can’t be done. To try and fail doesn’t mean we have coldness in our hearts. And not to try at all would be arctic. Not to remove them from the greater society would be like dropping a man-eater into a crowded wading pool.

YOUTH CRIMINALITY HAS BECOME LOST IN A FOG OF CONFUSION. What’s a youth? What constitutes a crime? What’s an unacceptable form of behavior? What’s the correct response from society? When is a killer a victim? Yet just two issues have to be dealt with: the public’s safety and the offender’s rehabilitation. In some cases, one is more important than another. But how to incorporate the public’s welfare and the violator’s need for help?

The first step is to scrap the Young Offenders Act entirely, just dump it. We spend too much energy debating this 1984 response to the problem instead of the problem itself. Next, to end the confusion, which is the root of the problem, we must decide at which age a person passes from adolescence into adulthood. Whether it’s 15, 16, 17 or 18 doesn’t matter. Unless we firmly settle upon an age of majority, we’re going to be dealing with a hybrid beast, a Minotaur that is neither man nor beast and has no true form.

I like the age of 16. It’s an age at which we already allow children limited rights and responsibilities. Giving young adults full rights will clearly eliminate the push-pull confusion about their legal powers and define their role and place in society.

Criminal actions for people aged 16 and up would automatically go into the criminal justice system, with all the rights and penalties therein. Under the age of 16, and there’s no bottom age to this, criminals would have fewer rights and be less responsible for their actions. Society would see the offender as a child in need of protection or assistance. We know best because we’re adults; we love and value children, and we will look out for their welfare. Children who act criminally would be dealt with in one of three ways.

First offences would involve no courts at all. Minor misbehavior, such as shoplifting, truancy, petty thefts, all crimes not involving self-destructive actions and harm to others, would be diverted into government-run redemption programs. A smashed window means weekends working at a glazier and fixing the victim’s window; spraying graffiti on private property equals several days cleaning it up and repainting the walls; shoplifting gets weekends working at the victim’s shop.

These actions and reactions are balanced and would provide restitution for the victims as well as punishment and a lesson in fairness for the offenders. Minor violations wouldn’t be ignored but neither would they lead to punishment unrelated and out of proportion to the offence.

Repeat offenders would go into the court system. Alternatives would be provided to the unhealthy lifestyle or to the environment fostering antisocial or criminal behavior. When the offender’s problem is his family or his peers, he’d be removed from those bad influences and put onto a work farm or into a school-oriented facility. This soft custody would be goal-oriented and aimed at helping the youth reorient himself. Privileges would be won or lost, solely on his own merit. If, by the time he reaches his 16th birthday, he persists in criminal behavior, the system admits failure in his case. The offender would then be in the province of the adult system, entirely as a result of his own actions.

The third and most drastic path is reserved for the flatliners: the killers and rapists and violent gang members who commit ongoing criminal activities, those who have taken a giant step outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.

There’s no bottom age limit, particularly in sex crimes and homicides. The main goal here would be removal from society on conviction. This third path would be purely justice-oriented, and because big-time crime leads to big time, the system would spare no expense dealing with it. Full legal rights, lawyers, juries and appeals. Sentencing guidelines would be the same as for adults under the Criminal Code for similar offences: tight-closed custody until the age of 16, then off to the penitentiary to finish the rest of the sentence. The goal wouldn’t be so much to punish the violator as to protect society.

ALL OF THIS IS JUST A STARTING POINT, AN UNAMBIGUOUS SETTING of rules of behavior, of duties and responsibilities. Guidance in building a life in which self-respect and respect for others is paramount.

Several programs being bounced about by authorities across the country deserve a chance: boot camps of varying toughness; fines and even incarceration for parents who fail to maintain control over their children, who knowingly allow them to associate with drug dealers and gang members. Parents could be made to pay a portion of their children’s detention, schools could be funded on a per student basis with bonuses to schools who report the most attendance and the most graduates.

None of it will be easy or cheap. But while we can recognize that just about everyone who breaks the law is in some way a victim of something, that recognition has to be outweighed by the results of the offender’s violent acts. Understanding the rough times in an offender’s past should provide us with an insight; it shouldn’t excuse the violence.

When all is said and done, all we can really call our own is our own actions. We are what we do. Taking the responsibility away from young people, providing the excuses that support their evil deeds, is to take away what, in the end, composes their lives.


Jean Halls, Edmonton, responds: October 8, 1996

I take great exception to the statement in Lee Lamothe’s article, “Somebody probably thought it made good sense at the time. But so did dunking witches in deep water to see if they sank, burning adulteresses and voting Reform.”

I thought your magazine was different from the other Eastern media, which without exception is hostile to Reform. But apparently not. Is it because you feel nothing good can come from the West (except money, of course, for the Liberals to hand out)?

Do not bother sending me a renewal slip as I will not be renewing. Why should I pay to be beaten up?

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