The Farce of Protecting Young Criminals’ Identities
On a Tuesday morning
August, Canadians learned from our morning newspapers that the
killer” was on the loose. The
20-year-old, who in 1999 had shot and killed one person and injured
his Taber, Alberta high school, had escaped from a halfway house in
leaving a note saying he would not be taken alive.
Police considered him dangerous, and cautioned
the public not to approach him if they saw him.
Because the killer had been only 14 at the
time of his
crime, his name had for six years gone unpublished.
Now, however, police had obtained a court
order allowing publication of his name and photograph to assist in his
I spent a few moments studying the captioned photo before concluding that I would not be able to tell this kid apart from a dozen other dorky-looking kids on the streets of my town, should he happen to wander out this way. So I dismissed it and returned to the other news.
The next day, headlines announced
that the Taber killer had
been captured. This time, however, there
was no photograph, and the story noted that the young man’s name
I was amused to note that I could not, for
the life of me,
remember the kid’s name in any event.
But feeling a bit like Winston Smith in Nineteen
Eighty-four, I retrieved the previous day’s paper and gazed
keenly at the information which was now supposed to be officially
the memory hole. No wonder the name
hadn’t stuck. It was a nondescript,
eminently forgettable name. It would
have slipped out of my mind again immediately, had not the farcical
the affair made it prime column fodder.
According to the Youth
Criminal Justice Act, an order permitting publication of
information about a “young person” expires after five days. The Taber killer’s order had been made on a
Monday, so it expired on the following Saturday.
What would happen to this information on the
internet, I wondered? I checked on Sunday,
the day after the order
The Globe and Mail,
National Post and Toronto Star
all allowed me to read
their earlier stories containing the man’s name. So
did Quicklaw, in its Canadian Press
database, which presumably will remain accessible, intact, permanently. One can only hope that the lunacy of trying
to un-publish something already published will be obvious enough even
Canadian government that these companies won’t face prosecution for
rewrite history. No doubt, however,
batteries of lawyers on both sides are already considering the issue.
But this is not the only farcical aspect of
the Youth Criminal Justice Act’s publication
prohibitions. The very idea that we are
actually protecting a young offender’s identity in prominent cases like
Taber shooting is ridiculous. Does
anyone really believe there’s a soul in Taber who didn’t know that
within a few days of the shooting? There
were plenty of people at the school that day, and they all have friends
families. People gossip.
Or consider the lengthy murder trial of
I suspect that the philosophy behind
offenders’ identity is to recognize that kids shouldn’t be penalized
rest of their lives by criminal convictions that in some cases are
indiscretions. But we can’t have it both
ways. If our law is written this way
because it represents what Canadians believe, then why can’t we trust
Canadians to dismiss what were genuinely youthful peccadilloes when
the young offenders years later? On the
other hand, if Canadians really believe that character matters, and
should have a right to know a person’s reputation and history before
whether or not to deal with him, why should the law undermine our
protect our lives, our families and our property by denying us
It’s time to end the farce. Repeal the non-publication provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.