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Crime and the young: It's complicated

Photo: Connor Tarter/flickr

Crime and the young. It's complicated, far more so than any tough-on-crime Tory politician could -- or would probably want to -- capture.

Consider last week's police blotter. In Cole Harbour, a 17-year-old boy faces charges of possessing and distributing child pornography. In London, Ontario, a 19-year-old computer science student is charged with electronically breaking into Canada Revenue Agency's secure website. And, in Calgary, a 22-year-old faces five first-degree murder charges.

Let's peel back some layers. A caveat: none of the allegations have been tested in court; what I know comes from news reports.

The 17-year-old Auburn Drive High School student --16 at the time -- is accused of sharing intimate photos of a female 16-year-old with his friends.

Stupid? Yes. Reprehensible? Absolutely. Possibly even criminal. But making and distributing kiddie porn? A report prepared for federal and provincial justice ministers last year called child porn laws "too blunt an instrument to address the core behaviour," which is kids stupidly sharing someone else's selfies on their cellphones. There's a new, more appropriate law working its way through parliament, but should we really turn thoughtlessly behaving teenagers into lifetime registered sex offenders while we wait for it?

The computer science student? According to his lawyer, he's an "ethical" hacker; as a 14-year-old, he broke into his local school board computer server to show how easily it could be breached. Was he doing the same with the CRA website -- to show how vulnerable the "Heartbleed" bug had made it? Should that make a difference in law? In punishment?

And then, of course, there is the horrific story out of Calgary where a "good and gentle young man," a soon-to-be law student, completed his shift at a Calgary supermarket, attended a small end-of-term Bermuda-Shorts-Day house party, to which he'd been invited, grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed five other young people to death.

Even before we learned he'd been treated for mental health issues dating back to high school, it was clear this was no simple booze-juiced party fight gone wrong, no typical pre-meditated first degree murder.

But how should society deal with crimes committed by the mentally ill? Perhaps more to the point, how can we stop them from happening?

Crime and the young. It's complicated. 

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Connor Tarter/flickr

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