Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Maple Ridge Times week of Apr. 19, 2010)

Time to scrap a bad idea

  By John Martin


A recently proposed piece of legislation to address repeat youth offenders, particularly those engaged in extreme violence, is one of the most common sense proposals to come along in quite some time. 

Bill-C4, also known as Sebastien's Law, in recognition of 19-year-old Sebastien Lacasse, who was senselessly murdered at a house party in 2004, would finally hold the most violent youth accountable for their actions.

Obviously the bill has a long way to go before it becomes law. Some of its components are controversial and sure to meet with resistance from the usual crew of appeasers and apologists.

Among other things, the legislation would provide mechanisms to keep repeat, violent offenders off the street while awaiting trial and strengthen sentencing provisions to permit sentences that are proportionate to the severity of the crime.

It would also ensure adult sentences are considered for youth 14 and older who commit the most serious offences - including murder and sexual assault.

But the least discussed piece of Bill-C4 is the one I'm particularly pleased to see. It would require courts to consider lifting the publication ban on identifying young offenders convicted of violent offences.

The idea of prohibiting the naming of juvenile delinquents was a noble one half a century ago. It was founded on the notion that identifying a young criminal could create a powerful stigma that would make it more difficult for the youth to carry on with his life.

Consequently, media has long been banned from naming young offenders.

But it's a hopeless concept in the digital age. Anyone with an Internet connection can easily track down the identity of the accused in high profile cases.

The names of youth scooped up by the police and being held in custody are plastered all over Facebook and other social networking sites. The World Wide Web opened up the barn doors quite some time ago and it is futile to think an archaic law can shield the identities of young offenders in this day and age.

But more important, why do we even want to do so anymore? There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the public identification of young offenders impedes reintegration or rehabilitation.

Conversely, we know that shaming and public condemnation are effective tools in addressing youthful criminality - as evidenced by the success of various restorative justice initiatives.

It is ludicrous that the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Times can report an elderly woman being swarmed and beaten by three young thugs but must protect their privacy while doing so.

I'm not advocating humiliating a kid for a one-time incident of poor judgment. But there is no basis to continually shield the identity of persistent, repeat offenders who laugh their way in and out of court. All this gag law does is protect the reputation of the offender's parents.

Who knows? Maybe a little bit of public humiliation would smarten up a lot of neglectful, irresponsible parents who don't have a clue or care what types of shenanigans their kids are getting into at two in the morning.

At the very least, the name of a violent offender, regardless of age, should absolutely be published when it would aid in the protection of society.

Those who continually insist we must forever protect the identities of young offenders are quick to point out that crime is at an all time low so there's no need to crack down.

To this, I say BS. True; some types of crime have moderately decreased. Overall though, crime is much higher than it was forty-five years ago. And one category that is increasing all the time is youth violent offences.

The kid glove approach, however well meaning, has not worked. Anyone who suggests otherwise is in denial. Bill-C4 is a big step in the right direction. Eliminating the carte blanche right to anonymity for repeat, violent youth is thoughtful and responsible social policy.

It would be so gratifying to see voters direct their wrath at any Member of Parliament who attempts to block or water down this legislation.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


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