Justice: Young offenders Visit wasn't done justice
No early warning by MPs studying youth crime
NNSL (OCT 11/96) - MPs studying the youth justice system got less than they bargained for when they swung through Yellowknife Monday.

A panel from the House of Commons justice committee visited the city - one stop on a national tour - to find out what Northerners think about youth crime, punishment and the Young Offenders Act.

However, many groups invited to make presentations to the panel were ill-prepared for the visit, only finding out about it late last week.

"They told us they would send some information, but all we got was the committee's itinerary and that came (Monday) morning," said Tom Eagle, executive director of the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.

"We didn't really have enough time to put something formal together," he said.

Mike Paulette, Metis Nation vice-president, did have enough time to put together a formal presentation.

He told the panel that while the justice system in general doesn't meet the needs of aboriginal people in the NWT, the Young Offenders Act isn't the problem.

"It's really a social problem. Only now are we beginning to dig ourselves out of a rut that we've been in for many, many years," Paulette said in an interview after the meeting.

"And I encouraged them - if they ever come back to the North again - to go to smaller communities to see how life is there. Yellowknife is not the centre of the universe in the NWT," he said.

The panel, headed by Ontario MP Shaughnessy Cohen, visited Iqaluit Sept. 27 for a similar public meeting. It was their only other Northern stop.

After visiting Yellowknife, the panel travelled to Alberta, where convicts at a maximum-security jail told the panel the youth justice system was a joke.

They said that as young criminals they didn't get treatment or rehabilitation, despite previously being incarcerated in youth custody facilities.

Committee members expect to recommend some changes to the Young Offenders Act at the end of the year.