Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rally, petitions demand youth justice changes

Updated Sat. Mar. 10 2007 9:16 PM ET News Staff

Hundreds of people attended an Edmonton rally to change how the Canadian justice system deals with youth crime.

The first annual Josh Hunt Silent March for Justice rally, held Saturday, was organized by Josh's father Gary Hunt.

Josh, 16, was stabbed to death at a house party two blocks from his family home on Oct. 14, 2005. A 17-year-old is charged with second-degree murder in the case.

The rally marked the official delivery of the Hunt family petitions to the House of Commons via local Conservative MP Mike Lake. More than 40,000 people signed the petitions.

"We have enough for an association; we shouldn't have that many and that's why we are coming together," Hunt told CTV News.

He started six different petitions to demand tougher sentencing for youth involved in violent crime. The documents also call for names and photos of anyone 12 and older to be available to the media to be published and for judges to be elected by citizens.

After the petitions were delivered, Lake offered those on hand some hope of tougher laws to come.

"The Youth Criminal Justice Act is one that we have trouble getting support from opposition, but you will see legislation soon to strengthen the act," he said.

Many of those involved in the rally have been directly touched by youth crime.

Peacha Atkinson, the mother of 13-year-old murder victim Nina Courtepatte, was on hand to lend her support. She told CTV News the fight for change has helped her with the grieving process.

"It's given me strength to carry on and I'll do this till my last breath," Atkinson said.

Nina was found raped and murdered on a golf course west of Edmonton on April 3, 2005.

Joseph Laboucan, 21, and Michael Briscoe, 36, are both charged with first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping.

Three youths were also charged in the slaying. One, a male, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, while two girls, aged 17 and 16, are awaiting trial.

Kelly Rolston, another parent who lost a child to youth violence, was pleased with the turnout.

"Watching the people look out the windows, them watching down the street as we were marching down, they were interested in what was going on as well. So the more interest, the more we're going to be able to make the change," said Rolston.

Her son Shane, 17, died after being clubbed in the head with a baseball bat in November 2005.

Youths who commit crime come under the jurisdiction of the YCJA.

The YCJA was adopted by Canada on April 1, 2003. It encourages the use of non-court measures for less serious offences and the act also requires judges to inquire whether an adult is available to take care of a young person awaiting trial instead of the youth waiting in detention.

The federal government contends youth crime has dropped since the inception of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

"Crime committed by youth aged 12 to 17 fell six per cent last year, the second consecutive decline. The youth crime rate, which had declined throughout the 1990s, was generally on the rise between 1999 and 2003," said Statistics Canada in a July 20, 2006 report.

"Violent crime among youth was down two per cent while property crime dropped 12 per cent. The number of young people accused of homicide rose from 44 in 2004 to 65 in 2005, putting the youth accused homicide rate at its highest point in more than a decade."

With a report from CTV Edmonton's Courtney Mosentine

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