Put brakes on teen car thieves, Chomiak urges
Thu Mar 8 2007 | By Bruce Owen | Winnipeg Free Press
MANITOBA'S Justice Minister Dave Chomiak is repeating calls for the Harper government to live up to its commitment to put the brakes on reckless teen car thieves.
"It's an indictable offence to steal a cow, but it's not an offence to steal a car," Chomiak said Wednesday, in response to the "catch and release" of six boys, aged 13 to 16, who are accused of stealing two Cadillac Escalades in Winnipeg earlier this week and going on a wild ride that damaged many other cars.
Chomiak said he's frustrated Ottawa has not started to revamp the Criminal Code to make auto theft a crime of its own and beef up the Youth Criminal Justice Act to give prosecutors more power to hold suspected auto thieves in custody.
Right now, youths arrested for stealing cars are either charged with joyriding, possession of goods obtained by crime, or theft under or over $5,000.
By making auto theft a crime of its own under federal law, a conviction could potentially carry heavier penalties, Chomiak said.
Manitoba and Nova Scotia tabled these recommendations and others at a meeting of justice ministers last October, and seemed to get a sympathetic ear from then-federal Justice Minister Vic Toews.
At that time Toews committed to toughen up the YCJA and examine options regarding pre-trial detention.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved Toews out of the post last January, replacing him with Robert Nicholson. Chomiak said he's written to Nicholson about the review of the YCJA but hasn't received a response.
Chomiak said more flexibility to hold youths in custody for auto-theft crimes is needed, regardless if they have a criminal record.
Under the five-year-old YCJA, a youth with no record who is caught stealing a vehicle can't be held in pre-trial custody. That's because the law focuses more on rehabilitation than punishment for first-time offenders.
Chomiak also said changes to the YCJA picked up steam in December with the release of Nova Scotia's Nunn commission report.
The commission examined what lead to the Oct. 14, 2004 death of Theresa McEvoy in Halifax. She was killed by a 17-year-old Archie Billard, who was driving a stolen car and trying to evade police when he caused a crash.
Billard had been released from police custody two days earlier. He was later sentenced as an adult to 5 1/2 year in prison.
Commissioner D. Merlin Nunn said Billard should not have been released from custody on the earlier date. Among the reasons blamed were the limiting bail provisions of the YCJA. He recommended the Nova Scotia government urge Ottawa to change the YCJA to emphasize public safety and increase flexibility for pre-trial detention.
Nunn also said the YCJA was sound legislation that works well in dealing with many young offenders, but needs to be amended to deal with more troubled youth who continuously snub the law.
MONDAY, 11 a.m.: several youths troll Polo Park Shopping Centre parking lot and steal two older-model Cadillac Escalades. It's believed the SUV were used to ram into other vehicles.
MONDAY, 1 p.m.: police spot one of the stolen SUVs driving in West Kildonan and give chase down south on Main Street.
MONDAY, 1:15 p.m.: the vehicle is abandoned on Church Avenue. Several youths are seen running into an apartment building.
MONDAY, 2 p.m.: police arrest six boys 13-16. The second damaged Escalade is found abandoned on Boyd Avenue near Arlington Street.
MONDAY EVENING: each of the boy's is released by police into the custody of their parents. As none has a criminal record, police and the courts are powerless to hold them in custody. The boys are told not to communicate with one another and not to be in a vehicle without the owner's permission.
Public would get tough with young offenders
IT'S wrong for six boys arrested after Monday's smash-up derby with two stolen Cadillac Escalades to be home with their families, a random selection of people said yesterday at the mall where the SUVs were stolen. And the law that kept them out of jail and let them return home -- Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act -- is too lenient, said the shoppers at Polo Park Mall.
"I'm so sick of it. These kids, they get slapped on the wrist and they go out and do it again."
LEE CHRISTENSON, 21.
"The security guards can't do anything. They'll kick kids out of the mall but they're back a week later."
"They should close the malls down at six o'clock. Parents should be home with their kids, not working. And unfortunately, the way the system is right now, parents have it tough
trying to be tough with their kids."
"If the kids are old enough to be doing things they shouldn't be doing -- they're old enough to take
responsibility. They're old enough to be punished. What are the parents going to do? Ground them? If there's no recourse in the legal system, what the parents can do is pretty limited." JACKIE DYKSTRA, 17
"Are you kidding? I'd leave them in jail to learn their lesson. As a parent, I would have left them in jail, if I had kids."