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Justice and reform at Nova Scotia youth court sentencing

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Photo: Joe Gratz/flickr

It is easy to understand the anger, the frustration.

The boy, who is now a man, who took the picture of the girl who will now never become a woman (but who still can't be named -- and that is part of the frustration), will not go to jail.

Instead, Judge Gregory Lenehan Thursday sentenced the now-20-year-old to write an apology to the parents of the girl, to be delivered through his youth worker, and to provide a DNA sample for a national database. The judge also urged him to attend a course on sexual harassment. But, after 12 months of good behaviour, he will be considered discharged.

His life will go on…

On Nov 12, 2011, the boy, then 17, and the girl, 15, attended a small house party where there was underage drinking and sexual activity. At some point, the boy took a cellphone photo of his friend having sex with the girl, who was, by then, vomiting out a window. The next day, the boy sent the photo to his friend, who circulated it via social media, triggering months of bullying and harassment and leading, inexorably, to the girl's death.

During the sentencing, the judge told the young man: "The act depicted in that photo that you took is vile. It is degrading. It is dehumanizing." He had no doubt it triggered the girl's "fall into a deep, dark hole of despair from which she could not extricate herself."

But he also made two other important points: The first is that everyone involved in this tragic incident was, at the time, a young person who never considered the potential horrific consequences of their actions. The young man, a first offender the judge believes is "genuinely remorseful," is therefore "not as morally blameworthy as an adult."

The second is that youth court "is not a court of retribution. It is a court that seeks to reform and rehabilitate the young person."

No penalty any court could have imposed, of course, will bring back this young girl.

But we do know her death has changed laws, and the national conversation.

Now, we can only hope the judge's thoughtful blend of condemnation and direction will lead to personal reform and rehabilitation too.

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

Photo: Joe Gratz/flickr

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