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posted October 18, 2006

A DAY IN COURT

Park staff Mayssan Shuja, Amy Withers, Corey Chivers, Anna Galati, ex-staff Daniel Cayley and park friend Jutta Mason went to court in the middle of October to follow up on a big problem at the rink. Last rink season, several “rink rat” youth caused so much trouble and grief in and around the rink house, damaging property and intimidating other rink users, that after weeks of second and third chances and negotiation, the police were called. They searched these youth and one of them was arrested and charged with possession of a concealed weapon (a large knife).

One of the rink staff had been subpoenaed as a witness for this trial. The other staff who came along had all dealt with the youth a lot, and all were very concerned about him, feeling he needs attention and help to change from a very bad direction. But none of the rink staff got to say anything in court. In fact, the whole business was carried out between the Crown – who did not ever ask to speak to any park staff – and the youth’s lawyer, in a side room away from the courtroom. The lawyer said that the case was weak, since the youth had admitted to police that he carried the knife “for self-defence.” That’s illegal, but the lawyer said the youth should have been offered a lawyer before he said anything: “maybe he was carrying the knife to peel apples.” The Crown lawyer agreed that the case was weak. So it was settled between them that the youth would have to work twenty hours doing community service (supervised by the lawyer), and everyone was told to go home. Case closed.

Two months of destructive behaviour by a youth at Dufferin Rink, vandalism of park property and rink staff property, intimidating other rink users, non-compliance with a ban from being in the park, carrying a concealed knife, leading to arrest: the court-ordered penalty is 20 hours of community service at a location of the youth’s own choosing.

Dufferin Rink staff are puzzled that there’s so much talk about the need to connect the justice system with the community. The staff had heard that Youth Court is supposed to be a bit less formal than the more rigid adult courts, a bit more open to talk and real negotiation including all the parties, but the evidence was not there. The reality in this case was that the community affected by this young guy’s behaviour seemed to have no standing at all.

Now the rink staff know that this winter, if they are worried about another kid like this one, they’d better find a different way to deal with the problem. The courts downtown won’t help. Perhaps rink staff and park friends together will be able to work out a more local forum, if there’s a youth in trouble.

There is a little-used provision in the new Youth Justice Act that could allow local police to help with this directly, but police are disinclined to use it because they feel they might be sued. Do any park friends know more about this? If so, please talk to the rink staff: all good ideas appreciated!


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