by Phil Ambroziak

It’s all fun and games… even if someone ends up behind bars.

According to Meadow Lake resident Rufas Crawford, this seems to be the mentality shared by several young people in the community who continue to shirk the law as a means of satisfying some sort of unmet need.

“What frustrates me is the kids don’t even care if they’re caught,” Crawford said. “They have been caught before, but the cops can’t do anything.”

Crawford, who resides on Stack Crescent, was referring to the recent theft of his van while it was parked outside his home. The vehicle was stolen around 3 a.m. July 19 and, although recovered by police a short time later, a 12-year-old male was arrested in connection with the crime.

“Our neighbour across the street actually heard something, looked outside and saw people hanging around our van,” Crawford continued. “She yelled at them, they ran away and she went to call the police. Before the RCMP arrived, however, the kids had enough nerve to come back and take the van.”

The stolen vehicle was pulled over on Centre Street about an hour later.

According to the Meadow Lake RCMP, there has been an increase in property offences during the last few weeks and investigation to date has determined a group of youth between the ages of 12 and 15 may be involved in 34 of these occurrences. Arrests have been made and charges laid in many of the investigations, but because of the ages of those involved, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) states they cannot be identified.

“Overall, we’ve made significant progress over the last few years in terms of youth crime in Meadow Lake,” stated RCMP Sgt. Ryan How. “It seems to be down for the most part, but the problem is groups of kids like this. They’re a small group, but are causing a tremendous amount of problems including violence and vandalism.”

How went on to say some of the youth aren’t even from the Meadow Lake area.

“Some have been relocated here for various reasons and have been in trouble before,” he said. “We’re kind of the end of the line because policing should never be the solution for kids this young. It’s a societal issue and something that needs to be looked at from a social services perspective as far as prevention is concerned.”

Meanwhile, specific requirements/criteria must be met in order for the RCMP to remand youth under the YCJA. Property offences do not typically meet these requirements.

“Youth crime in general, however, was much more prevalent a few years ago when we saw several groups of kids doing things like this on an almost nightly basis,” How said. “We’re now making more foot patrols as well as conducting other initiatives to combat such problems.”

Crawford, meanwhile, said not all kids are bad, but said serious consequences should await those responsible.

“You can’t label all kids or people in the same boat, but – when you have 12 year olds roaming the community at 3 a.m. – I don’t believe it’s the kids who need a shake-up, it’s the parents who need one,” he said. “Maybe it’s the parents who need to be charged. We don’t want vigilantes out there, but some day someone is going to take things into their own hands when it comes to this sort of thing and it’s going to get ugly.”

JUDGE WEIGHS IN

Although youth crime continues to plague Meadow Lake streets, the numbers don’t always carry over to the provincial court system.

“To be quite frank, the RCMP see the numbers more than I do,” explained Judge Janet McIvor. “I suspect there are a lot of complaints I never hear about because they never make it to court. The RCMP, Family Services and other agencies are likely involved beforehand in terms of intervention.”

This doesn’t mean young people never find themselves before a judge in Meadow Lake, however. But, according to McIvor, of all the communities within the Meadow Lake court’s jurisdiction, Loon Lake has the highest per capita youth crime rate as far as actual cases go.

“You wouldn’t think that would be the case considering Meadow Lake is the larger centre, but the variable is the number of cabin break-and-enters that occur in Loon Lake,” she said.

As for what leads young people down a path of crime, McIvor echoed much of what others have said, noting it’s often a combination of such issues as poverty, drug and alcohol addiction and more that lead to poor parenting, poor supervision, poor decisions, an unhealthy upbringing and so on and so forth.

“Once a child reaches the age of 12, he or she can be charged,” McIvor added. “By the time they’re 14 or 15 years old, usually all other avenues (to correct the child’s behaviour) have been attempted. Then, of course, older kids often have their own drug and alcohol issues, so it’s kind of a vicious circle.”

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