Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lord Of The Flies

Before the Young Offenders Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, children as young as seven could be held criminally responsible for their actions, because it was understood that at that age, they could genuinely tell right from wrong, and have a sufficient grasp of the concept of actions and consequences.

In light of this horrific event in Winnipeg, and many others involving young delinquents, perhaps it is time to return to that old wisdom about seven as the age of reason:

It was early evening in the Gilbert Park public housing complex in Winnipeg's north end, and smoke from fires set by neighbourhood kids curled among the two-storey concrete townhouses. Brian McKay, a soft-spoken teen with wire-rimmed glasses and a pronounced limp, was drawn to the flames.

Within minutes, he had been shoved inside a burning wood shed by four girls and a boy, all younger than 12. They barred the door with a stick, and laughed and danced outside as the flames started to eat away the plywood structure. Brian was trapped inside.

Brian, 14, stands 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 95 pounds. He wears braces on his legs because he was born with spina bifida. Other children have always picked on him because of his size, he says.

He had moved to his grandmother's house in the housing complex only a week earlier, and was still getting to know the local kids. It was during the past weekend that he saw a group of young girls and a boy lighting cardboard and trying to shove it under the storage shed of the neighbourhood daycare, and wandered over to see what was going on.

I saw somebody was lighting a fire under the shed, and then they pushed me in there,” he said, remembering the incident while sitting at his grandmother's kitchen table Monday.

He recalled trying to kick at the door, but his legs, withered by his condition, are barely two inches thick.

“It was too hard,” he said.

“I was banging on the door but the smoke kept coming on. I was scared and I panicked. I kept breathing faster and then I fell to the ground because I didn't know what to do. I couldn't breathe at all.”

Brian was still coughing Monday, and complained of shortness of breath. He said he was in the shed for five minutes while it burned. He called for help, “But no one was trying to help me.”

The children who tried to kill Brian surely knew that what they were doing was deadly; their own reactions suggest that they took delight in causing another's death.

If that is not enough to demonstrate their ability to understand action and consequence, and therefore to be held responsible for their crime, what is?

Source: Globe and Mail