More than ever before, we have created a world in which we force kids with still developing brains and oftentimes weakened family supports to make complex decisions at younger and younger ages. Then, when they make poor choices, consequences often end up punitive and/or life altering.
Let's keep this up front. I am a strong proponent for prevention through education and opportunity and restorative justice for youths who break the law. I have been actively involved in the solicitor general's youth justice program for two years in Alberta and hope to continue volunteering in a similar capacity here in Sechelt.
The youth justice program seeks to involve trained community volunteers and victims of crime in a circle situation where first-time young offenders directed to the program through referral from RCMP take ownership of their criminal activity. They complete a contract that includes measures that try to build on that individual child's strengths and needs. Sometimes deeper issues surface that require interventions such as drug and alcohol counselling or mental health therapy. The Harper government has been threatening to get tough on teen crime. Harper would like to increase penalties for violent young offenders from juvenile sentences to adult sentences. Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled five to four to uphold the 100-year-old system that treats teenage offenders with greater leniency. The close vote suggests that even our highest court is beginning to question the effectiveness of current sentencing for young offenders.
This is why I think putting our money and time into prevention and restorative measures early on are key to altering the course of youth crime. In the last week, I attended three local events that actively promote positive teen activities.Sunshine Coast RCMP graduated three classes of Grade 5 and 6 students from their drug abuse resistance education program (DARE). DARE fosters healthy lifestyle choices and teaches kids through role-playing how to deal with negative peer pressure situations. Secondly, I want to hold skateboarders up in a positive light. This is a sport with little adult support or coaching, and yet youths at the park are raising the level of competitiveness amongst themselves every day. The other cool thing I noticed at International Go Sk8 Day last Saturday was how there were 18 year olds playing alongside 12 and six year olds. I never saw an older teen intimidate or shoo away a youngster. Rather, I saw older teens teaching little ones how to skate better and the young teens working to build the jumps for the big guys that they aspire to be like. Go Sk8 Day showed that fun is possible in an intergenerational setting.
Lastly, the youth centre in Gibsons is a relatively new place for kids ages 13 to 18 to hang out under the supervision of community volunteers. They congregate with like-minded peers and positive role models. Best of all, there is a youth advisory group made up of older teens who are picking the direction of programming and taking ownership of the centre. There will always be a handful of extreme, violent crimes each year that take our breath away, but I believe they are rare. To combat crime in our community, I think most youths' needs are as simple as ever. They need safe, social places to go, adults who won't judge their dress, ideals or dreams and who have a willingness to offer advice when asked for and an ear to listen when it isn't.