Friday, April 23, 2010
NDP target probation rules
Attorney General Andrew Swan on Thursday ordered a meeting of Manitoba's top law enforcement officials to deal with questions surrounding how probation officers monitor high-risk young offenders.
Swan said the meeting between himself, Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill, RCMP assistant commissioner Bill Robinson and senior Crown and probation officials will happen as soon as can be arranged.
News of the meeting came on the second day of a political firestorm sparked by the sentencing hearing for a 16-year-old boy who's charged with driving a stolen SUV that ran a red light and slammed into a taxi driven by Tony Lanzellotti, killing him instantly on March 29, 2008.
The Free Press reported Thursday the boy, a repeat car thief, violated a probation order against him 24 times without anyone taking action over his repeated breaches.
The opposition Progressive Conservatives say the revelation exposes a policy by probation officers to overlook breaches rather than holding young offenders immediately accountable.
Swan said the meeting will air out any problems with how probation is enforced.
"We want their advice on the best way we can do that in a way to make sure offenders comply with court orders and also preserve public safety," Swan said.
The Tories say there are similar cases of probation officers turning a blind eye to offenders who are in breach before going on to commit another crime, but Swan said he could not speak to that.
Swan also said provincial court judges, the people who sign probation orders, will not be part of the meeting as the focus will be on how such orders are enforced.
"The system is not perfect and it needs to be improved," Swan said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said the top-level meeting smacked of NDP damage control.
"They're late to the game," McFadyen said.
"They've known about the facts of the Lanzellotti case and issues with probation services as we understand it now for more than a year. So it's quite clearly being done after media outcry, after public outcry."
McFadyen said Swan should immediately order a directive that a the province have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to monitoring high-risk young offenders on probation.
Swan has already said a zero-tolerance policy won't work and that probation officers should have discretion when to "breach" an offender.
Cheryl Dyck, the youth's probation officer, told court Tuesday they will only report breaches to police if there is a "pattern of non-compliance."
Crown attorney Brent Davidson, who is seeking an adult sentence of six years for the teen driver, suggested that will likely come as a surprise to many in the justice system, including the judges who hand down such orders.
The teen is asking to remain in youth court and be given eight more months behind bars.
Queen's Bench Justice Lea Duval reserved her decision until later this spring.
I agree with Swan in that there should NOT be a zero tolerance policy. Youths need some discretion, for minor breaches such as being 5 minutes late for an appointment or school, due to family problems, etc. If the breaches are extensive and prolonged, then the youths should be held accountable and charged with breach of probation.