By Staff Writers
Random acts of violence among Manitoba’s native youth has prompted calls for changes in federal legislation that would see children under the age of 12 face charges for criminal acts, especially in light of recent cases among native youth in Winnipeg’s inner city.
“When there are very, very serious crimes like this, we need to look at how it is that we can provide meaningful, but measured consequence,” said Conservative justice critic Kelvin Goetzen.
“And I don’t think it’s a positive thing to talk about putting people under 12 in facilities, incarcerated facilities. I think there’s better ways to send messages. But a message has to be sent and there is no message being sent now.”
On Saturday October 14th, a group of four Winnipeg native children aged 7 to 11 forced a disabled 14 year-old boy into a playground wood shed in a housing complex, locked the boy in, and set it on fire. The children fled the scene, but three others remained and tried to pry the door. Dennis Bird 39, was visiting his girlfriend a few houses away and heard the children yelling. He managed to pry the door open and pulled the boy to safety from the smoke-filled shed.
A few weeks earlier, a 12 year-old boy from the Chemawawin Cree Nation of central Manitoba was charged by the RCMP after taking part in a dangerous game that ended with severe burns to an 11 year-old girl.
The boys doused the girl with bug spray and set her on fire as part of the game, said staff Sgt. Steve Sauders.
“There were a group of kids playing with bug spray. They would spray it on themselves, light it, and then put it out,” said Saunders.
“That game progressed to the point that a group of them took an 11 year-old girl, were spraying her, and the top of the can came off or the can malfunctioned to the point that the bug spray poured over the girl. They lit it on fire and she suffered burns and was subsequently taken to the Health Sciences Centre.”
The incident took place on September 30, the accused boy’s 12th birthday. The girl remains in Winnipeg hospital where she was treated for burns to her face, neck, and one arm. She is in stable condition.
The 12 year-old boy faces several charges including aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and mischief endangering life.
Two other 11 year-olds who participated were deemed too young to be charged, said Saunders.
The Chemawawin Cree Nation is located in Easterville, southeast of The Pas. The reserve has about 1,200 residents.
“It’s disturbing when you have kids that do that in your community and you have to deal with it,” said Chief Clarence Easter.
Easter said that the band is sending family members to Winnipeg to be with the girl. The community is also working with the offenders with the help of the RCMP, counsellors and the band school, he said.
More recently, three teens and a 12- year-old girl were charged with second degree murder in what Winnipeg police are calling a random act of violence.
Police charged the youths – the 12 year old girl, two 14 year-old girls and a 15 year-old boy- in connection with the beating death of 34 year-old Daphne Cooper in the early morning of Saturday October 21st.
Cooper was found in front of a residence in the 500 block of Spence Street, suffering from life-threatening injuries. She later died in hospital.
“There is no indication that these youths knew her whatsoever,” Sgt. Kelly Dennison said. “It seems to be a random act of violence.”
Police say Cooper had been confronted by the group, then kicked and punched around the head and upper body.
Also on that Saturday morning, a 12 year-old girl was stabbed in the back during a fight with several other girls at a north end party. The girl was taken to hospital, where she was reported to be in stable condition. Winnipeg police are still searching for a suspect in regards to that incident.
In response to the string of violent acts, the federal government is trying to put more money into programs to keep youth-at-risk out of the justice system, said federal justice minister Vic Toews,
“We cannot change youth simply by incarcerating youth. We need to have appropriate programming. But the two need to go hand in glove,” said Toews.
Spence Neighbourhood Association director Inonge Aliaga, said unless more money is put into restorative justice programs, the city of Winnipeg would be facing a crime wave in the near future.
“We have to find a way to make these kids responsible for their actions,” she said.