(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 10, 2000)


Coddling young lawbreakers is criminal

By Leo Knight

SOMETIMES it's good to go off on a little rant.  


And it's been quite a while since I've done it. But the events of the past few days involving the tragic Fraser Valley abduction and murder of little Jessica Russell have triggered the rant impulse.  


As I write this, it's been only a few hours since the suspect, David Timothy Trott, was arrested fleeing from a stolen car involved in a hit and run in Kamloops.  


As the facts became known since the disappearance of the little girl on Thursday, it was apparent from the outset that the police were dealing with a situation that would very likely end up in a tragedy that somehow would reflect adversely on the justice system.  


As details of Trott's troubled past began to emerge, it became clear that he should not have been on the streets, freed by a justice system woefully incapable of dealing with the societal problems of those who represent evil, those beyond salvation.  


Born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Trott was destined from an early age to be a misfit. Following a troubled childhood (much of the details made public by his stepfather and not by the Ministry of Children and Families or the Ministry of the Attorney General) Trott was a ward of the ministry at an early age and despite, or perhaps because of, their intervention, he began falling afoul of the law, bouncing regularly from arrest to court to government program and back again.  


His adult record, relatively short by comparison, was marked with warning signs of horrendous things to come. Before the courts on the most recent of his criminal misdeeds and while Trott was on a court-ordered probation, the judge ordered a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) before pronouncing sentence.  


PSRs are routinely used by the courts and have long been dismissed by the police as a waste of time. They usually form the basis of an excuse for the offender's actions. But rarely has the uselessness of the exercise of PSRs been laid as bare as in this case.  


A social worker responsible for co-ordinating the PSR for Trott recommended a psychiatric assessment be done as part of the process. The judge couldn't wait the extra 10 days required with Trott remaining in custody and released him after sentencing him to "time served" and another useless period of probation. Within three days Jessica Russell was dead.  


The judge will no doubt sleep the sleep of the innocent, claiming her hands were tied.


To a degree she's right. The Young Offender's Act precludes the juvenile record being put before the judge for consideration in sentencing -- a ridiculous situation as evidenced by the Trott case. The sheer number of the YOA offences involved here should clearly have formed a part of the decision of what the court should have done with this young man.  


The idea that one starts with a clean slate just because of the occasion of an 18th birthday is lunacy. Especially in the case of violent repeat offenders.  


The problem comes from years of Liberal governments in Ottawa who have continually been soft on juvenile crime. The current Minister of Inaction and Coddling, Anne McLellan, is poised to introduce a new youth crime act that does little to address any of the failings of its predecessor.  


The inherent failing of the politicians responsible, the social workers and the court system, is they refuse to admit that some individuals are beyond hope.  


No amount of counselling, therapy, probation, custodial sentencing or any other intervention by any element of the system will alter the behaviour or attitudes of those people. At some level, the system has to recognize that some cannot and will not change.  


And then there are those who are truly evil -- the Paul Bernardos and Clifford Olsons of the world.  


Unfortunately, there are a great many more than just those two examples. The justice system has no answer for the truly evil. There is no ability to recognize and deal with real evil.  


The bulk of the crimes committed in this country are perpetrated by repeat or habitual offenders. Those who have been in and out of the great revolving door of justice.  


All the best intentions of the academics and social workers unfortunately have only a limited effect on people who are only beginning to fall afoul of the system. They cannot come to grips with the reality of the unsalvageable and therefore ignore the issue.  


The whole idea of probation has become a tragic joke.  


With a stern finger-wagging habitual offenders are told they are on probation yet again. Even when they were on probation at the time of the most recent offence. It doesn't matter. Breach the probation, commit another crime and get more probation. Probation on top of probation.  


Get out of jail, break into a house, steal a car, run from police, commit an armed robbery. Get arrested. More probation. Get out and do it all over again.  


And on and on it goes. Until, sooner or later, another innocent child is killed and society is horrified all over again.  


That is the real tragedy of the Jessica Russell case.  


It's all so preventable. All it takes is for those in charge to recognize reality and fix the problem. The system cannot fix the behaviour of the irretrievable or the truly evil. It's not pretty, but it's reality. And no amount of hand-wringing and finger-pointing will change that.  


There, I'm done. Strangely enough, I don't feel better for it. I can't, not as long as there will be another Jessica Russell, Mindy Tran, "Punky" Gustavesen, Melissa Dawn Bakeberg, Michael Dunahee ... .   







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