Young boy’s violent behaviour leaves Winnipeg police at their wit’s end
At first glance, the boy looks just like any other innocent child.
But his police file would tell a much different story, one that’s baffled authorities in Winnipeg since he was five years old.
The child can’t be identified because he’s a minor in the care of Manitoba’s Métis Child and Family Services, which he has been for some time.
He’s reportedly been involved in increasingly violent crimes in recent months, including theft, arson, break-ins and a stabbing.
But he’s under 12. That means he cannot be charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and since he lives in Manitoba, he cannot be detained in a secure facility to get help.
Winnipeg police won’t confirm any of the boy’s alleged crimes, but they do say he’s been on their radar for years.
“There’s no secret, this young person has been involved in criminal activity, from minor criminal activity to some very serious offences that have involved other people being very seriously injured,” Insp. Kelly Dennison told CBC News.
Dennison leads the Specialized Investigations Division, which has the boy’s file. In his hands are about six pages of information outlining his officers’ contact with the youngster beginning at age five, details of which he’s not allowed to share.
What he will say is police have reached out to every social services agency and official they can think of to help steer the boy away from his destructive path. Those efforts have been unsuccessful thus far.
“You can have all the programs in the world with all the best intentions and if you can’t get somebody to attend those programs then you don’t have a hope of having any positive consequence,” Dennison said.
The boy’s family has had many serious problems with the law over the years.
Calls for legislative changes
Christy Dzikowicz of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection says the only hope for the child is to get him into a secure facility he can’t walk away from.
“I think right now we lose kids when we don’t have that opportunity to keep them safe, when we don’t have the opportunity to stabilize them, to get them to a place we can help them,” Dzikowicz said. “While I would not advocate for incarcerating or locking up children without proper forethought or without necessity, I think it is something that needs to be possible.”
Unlike in Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia, Manitoba’s Child and Family Services legislation doesn’t allow authorities to detain kids under 12 in a secure facility. The only exception is to petition the courts to detain a child under the Mental Health Act, but that detention is limited to about a week.
Law professor Nicholas Bala of Queen’s University says the “unfortunate reality” is that most children who are committing offences can, should and must be dealt with “in the context of their homes and community.”
“But there are some very troubled children under the age of 12 who need to be in a secure environment and I think it is the responsibility of the Manitoba government and child welfare authorities to take appropriate action.”
“You can have all the programs in the world with all the best intentions and if you can’t get somebody to attend those programs then you don’t have a hope of having any positive consequence.” – Insp. Kelly Dennison
He says without appropriate programming and legislative changes, the boy’s caregivers “can’t lock the door” to keep him from running.
“We are not talking here about, in Ontario and other provinces, prisons for young children, we are talking about secure mental-health facilities where there is programming and therapeutic intervention that can address the very serious problems that these children have,” he said. “And although the focus is on treatment, it has a secure component.”
Police fear the worst
“I’ve got to be honest, said Insp. Dennison, “my biggest fear is we end up experiencing something here in Winnipeg like has been experienced in Saskatchewan in the past.”
In 2013, Lee Bonneau, 6, was allegedly bludgeoned to death by a ten-year-old on a reserve in southern Saskatchewan. The boy couldn’t be criminally charged because he was under 12. RCMP investigators testified at the inquest that there had been 23 complaints against the boy, dating back to when he was six.
- Lee Bonneau inquest: ‘Heartbreaking’ case, coroner says
- Sask. government responds to Lee Bonneau inquest recommendations
In one case, he and another boy were suspected of killing a pregnant dog and its unborn puppies following a break-in. Police found a baseball bat and golf club on the property.
Dzikowicz says she thinks the case of the Winnipeg boy highlights the same gaps in the system for dealing with troubled children and could serve as a wake-up call for the public.
“We are seeing the need for something we don’t have yet.”