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Why Kids Get Away with Murder

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The 12-year-old boy who took a loaded revolver to threaten others at Toronto's Oakdale Park school is bad enough, but the Youth Criminal Justice Act may be worse.

Under the act (which in 2003 replaced the 1984 Young Offenders Act), the kid won't be charged, can't be identified, and therefore, has no incentive to change his ways.

For kids who go seriously wrong, or intend to go wrong, the act is inadvertently a pass to commit crimes that may go unpunished without serious consequences.

The child with the loaded .38-calibre revolver at Oakdale school was apparently intent on threatening others, or to establish himself as a dangerous dude. After a scuffle between two students, school principal Craig Crone fortunately found the weapon and called police.

What happens now is the big question. The child has been suspended, and may be expelled. But that doesn't get to the heart of the issue. Where's the incentive to change his ways?

Were it not for a vigilant principal, the incident could have been another tragedy.

Even if the kid intended to scare people and not shoot, the reality of the matter is that the Colt Special was loaded. The kid knew it was loaded, and if it weren't for the principal's intervention, Toronto would be reading about yet another school shooting tragedy.

What's kind of law gives kids 12 and under a free pass to do whatever they want, and not hold them accountable? Or at least punish them in a way that inhibits future repetition? No matter the crime, three years is the maximum sentence, and the perpetrator's identity is protected.

Does that discourage or encourage juvenile crime? It depends.

We know nothing (yet) about the parents. What is their responsibility, or culpability?

There has to be a system where children (of any age) know that certain acts involve consequences that they will not like, and will want to avoid. The idea is for children not to get away with such acts, but no to do them in the future. And kids aren't stupid; they know the rules.

Among other clichés, the Youth Justice Act states: "The objectives . . . are to prevent crime; rehabilitate and reintegrate young persons into society; and ensure meaningful consequences for offences. . . .contribute to the long-term protection of society."

How will this Oakdale school kid be "rehabilitaed" and how will society get "long-term protection," if there are no serious consequences to his aborted intentions with a loaded gun?

And where did he get the loaded revolver? We don't know, but hopefully the police will find out. The kid says he found it. Yeah, a likely story.

But regardless of whether the gun was illegal or not, a 12-year-old taking a loaded weapon to school is a crime.

Few would argue the intentions of ether the Young Offenders Act YOA, or its YCJC replacement. The original intention was to protect youths who went astray from being branded criminals into adulthood.

And perhaps it works well for things like shoplifting and petty misdemeanours. But not for loaded guns to impress other kids as Mr. Big.

One of the goals of the YCJC is to lower Canada's incarceration rate of youths, which in 2000 (and since) is "higher than in any other western countries, including the U.S." In fact, Canada's youth incarceration rate is higher than the adult rate.

For serious crimes like murder, in select cases a youth of 14 can be charged as an adult -- but no, certainly not a 12-year-old. He can only be sentenced to three years.

More significant, there is no guarantee that he's not on a path to his own destruction. If so, society will also be a victim.