Young Communist League – March 2006
The new Conservative Justice Minister unveiled the priorities of the Harper regime on the legal front this week. Among the key priorities as announced by Justice Minister Vic Toews are calls for harsher punishments for "young offenders", trial of youth as adults for various serious crimes, and for an end to the policy of exempting youth under 12 from criminal charges.
The Conservative government is calling for a minimum sentence of five years for youth involved in gun crimes. The NDP has proposed what many, including Toews himself have described a "Conservative light" version of the proposal; four years minimum. Nonetheless, a light version of a bad, reactionary policy is still bad and reactionary.
Violence and crime affects youth around the country on a daily basis. It especially affects Aboriginal youth, youth of colour and immigrant youth who are forced by the racist capitalist system into conditions of poverty which are the breeding grounds for crime. All of this has largely been ignored by the media, or written off. But with the tragic shooting death of Jane Creba, a young white woman in downtown Toronto, this winter, the Conservatives are taking an opportunity to fear monger their "anti-crime" agenda through parliament and to effectively criminalize youth.
This situation is not limited to, but generally is worse amongst youth affected directly by the racism of the capitalist system, by the ruling class’ divide and rule policies. In February, a study by the CLC found that "the job market discriminates against workers of colour, and more so against young workers who are Canadian-born." A recent survey by a criminology student at the University of Toronto found that over half of black young men who responded have been searched by police at least twice in the past year, a result of "racial profiling" by the police. Similar police abuse can be found anywhere around the country where youth are targeted because of the colour of their skin, the way they look or dress, or even just because they are young. Youth crime and violence in our communities are directly caused by the conditions imposed on the development of youth by the capitalist system. The reactionary call for youth to be tried as adults will lead to the ruin of more young lives, to further racist attacks on youth of colour and Aboriginal youth, but not to an end to crime and violence.
Over the past decade there has been an increased shift towards youth prisons and boot camps and towards trying young offenders as adults. These actions also fall in line with deep-integration with U.S. imperialism and its policies towards crime which has effectively led to the criminalization of youth in the United States, and the creation of the highly profitable prison industrial complex. The people of Canada must demand that our sovereignty be protected and reject the notion of carbon copying the failed U.S. prison system in Canada. Neither the U.S. system, nor our current system have ever successfully stopped crime. While the right wing calls for harder punishments, we see an increase in criminal activities in many countries where such reforms are made such as the United States. On the other hand, socialist countries like Cuba, have adopted systems based on rehabilitation and education, and have shown some of the lowest levels of criminal activities around the world.
Punishing youth harder will never solve youth crime while the conditions that cause such crime in the first place are only worsening. The capitalist system is in crisis. Unemployment, mass lay-offs, low wages and high prices, "zero tolerance" policies leading to exclusions and expulsions from school, poverty and hunger, racism, sexism and homophobia are just some of the conditions that youth and their families have to grow up in under capitalism. Many youth are left with no high school diplomas, no trades or training, no access to post-secondary education, jobs, or affordable housing. These are realities for many youth in Canada today, who are left angry, feeling as though they have no future and desperate to find a way to make ends meet.
The YCL joins with the Communist Party and other progressive forces in calling for changes to address the conditions that lead to crime and violence. We need jobs, free and universal public education and Medicare, sports and leisure facilities, a Charter of Youth Rights. The YCL opposes changes to the Youth Justice Act that would lead to the potential imprisonment of more youth and even young children. We need a system that focuses on rehabilitation, not punishment. We need to focus on the roots of the problems, not the branched and leaves of it.
While we demand immediate reforms to reverse the criminalization of youth and for a more progressive and effective method of fighting crime, we also realize that capitalism creates, and always will create, the conditions for increased crime and violence. Only a revolution leading to the elimination of the capitalist system and the creation of a new, socialist, society can create the conditions for the eventual elimination of crime and violence in our society.
Stop the Criminalization of Youth!