Judge Lismer just says ‘no’

(ChrisD.ca)If you’re a young offender who frequently thumbs his or her nose at court orders, the last place you wanted to be today was in front of Judge Ted Lismer in an effort to get out on bail for the weekend.

Without any speeches, remonstrations or soft-handed explanations, Lismer wasn’t giving any breaks today.

There were two cases that stood out.

Exhibit one: The Level-4 offender

At 17, he was once considered one of the city’s worst candidates for stealing cars, driving them dangerously and endangering the public.

Police the gang-involved youth consider him to be an extremely high-risk to reoffend.

But in recent months, he’s been making somewhat of a turnaround and attending mandatory daily meetings with a program meant to try and help these kids turn their lives around.

His lawyer says he’s suffered as a byproduct of Manitoba’s devolution policy regarding kids in care — apprehended by CFS at age three after his mother couldn’t cope with her substance-abuse issues — he was placed with his two brothers in a foster home after the trio ran away and were found by RCMP.

By age nine, CFS officials decided to break up the siblings in an effort to place him in a more “culturally sensitive” home (his words). Since then, he’s been “shuffled through CFS for the last number of years.”

(Aside: every kid in court today (a docket of 10 or so) was involved in the child-welfare system.)

From there, the wheels fell off the bus, and crime, gangs and a disrespect for authority set in.

He’s amassed 17 convictions for court-order breaches, 16 of them for breaching conditions of youth sentences.

The latest allegations involve even more. The facts are “technical” and virtually innocuous. He didn’t show up for a curfew, was given a break, was arrested again on a breach, took the conviction and soon breached curfew again, the Crown said.

Prosecutors said there was no reason to trust him if he was let go. Lismer agreed and dismissed him from the courtroom, saying he agreed completely.

Again, no hand-holding. “In total, he just has too many non-compliances,” Lismer said.

Exhibit two: “In need of protection”

She’s 16, a ward of CFS and goes missing at will, triggering a police search to find her. She’ll vanish for a few days and turn up at homeless shelters or missions before turning herself in to police. Where she goes, it’s hard to say.

The Crown says she’s “a high-risk victim at high risk of being exploited.”

She’s got a long record of meltdowns, which have lead to convictions for assaulting police officers and uttering threats. Those convictions have led to many, many breaches in less than four years.

Thirteen in all — five for breaking the terms of prior sentences. She’s facing more breach allegations now.

She’s also on charge for an incident at her group home where she threatened to stab the staff, set the place on fire and lock all the doors as she left them inside.

Why? She wanted some Kraft Dinner, the Crown said in opposing her bail plan.

Instead of bloodshed or arson, the girl took off and played cat and mouse with CFS staff and police for about two weeks before turning herself in.

“It was not a serious threat … there was no real confrontation,” her lawyer told Lismer.

“Her issues are largely social-welfare welfare issues,” he said.

She lashes out at people trying to help her, he added.

The plan for her bail was to have her go live in a locked facility where she wouldn’t be able to get out unless escorted by staff. She’d also have access to programming that would help her graduate from a help-program.

Lismer, again, wasn’t buying it.

“I remain unsatisfied,” he said, simply, and dismissed her from the court.


Adaptive technology, the law and missing kids

(Texas Judge David Cobos/ABC NEWS)

Since we know that 3,500 of the reports filed with the Winnipeg Police Service’s Missing Persons Unit each year involve kids involved in state care, what are we going to do about it?

I can’t say for Manitoba’s elected officials, but this morning, I discovered what Texas Judge David Cobos might do.

Slap GPS ankle bracelets on them.

You can read about Cobos’s “experiment” to combat chronic truancy in Midland, Tx., but really, it need be no more complicated than the above italicized line suggests.

Imagine the financial cost and waste of police resources these 3,500 kids rack up each year as officers scramble to locate them.

It’s huge. And faced with an apparently “soaring” violent crime problem, Winnipeg needs these officers to deal with that situation, first.

Although lately, there’s been fewer of them, not a week goes by that a press release from the WPS pleads with the public for help finding one of these vulnerable runaways, who are at risk of being exploited by dealers, pornographers and pimps.

The service has taken steps to start charging people who harbour these kids and in some cases deliberately put investigators off the scent.

Now let’s take another step and force the most chronic runaways to wear location devices.

It has to cost less to do this than it does to pay police officers to run around after them.

In an interview on CBC’s The Current this morning, Cobos said the American Civil Liberties Union has not even muttered about his experiment, which he says has reversed truancy trends and brought up grade levels.

We put GPS anklets on select teenaged chronic car thieves because of the danger they pose to the public when out of jail.

So it’s not much of a stretch to tweak the argument and say that if a youth poses a danger to his or herself, then the monitoring is required.

The great thing about technology (and GPS tracking is not anyway close to cutting edge or expensive) is that it’s adaptive to needs.

Kind of like how the law is supposed to be.

Next logical step: Fine CFS.

Each time a chronic runaway vanishes and prompts a search by city police officers, the agency responsible for looking after them pays a fine. If police can establish that “X,” a ward of “Y” consistently runs away, then that establishes a pattern of lack of oversight.

That lack of oversight should result in a cost — and that revenue should be returned to the WPS for the cost of locating the youth.

We pay handsomely each year for CFS to provide for a growing number of children. And without getting into the equally handsome lack of public oversight the ministry enjoys, the glut of runaways is an indication that there’s a lack of appropriate oversight for them.

That must be penalized in some fashion, or there’s no incentive for change.

One judge in one American state realized there was a problem and used his authority and the tools available to him to try and correct it.

But here — in the face of serious, expensive problems and a lack of creative solutions — we’d strike a committee, have endless meetings, reports and consultations before we take action, I’d bet.