Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kids on their own in system

Tattooed, rootless crew haunt pretrial court

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He's 19 and his life isn't turning out the way he'd hoped.

We met outside courtroom 302 at the Law Courts Tuesday morning, the place where adolescents and adults go before a pretrial co-ordinator to have their paperwork moved through the system.

Pretrial co-ordinators see the accused after their charges are laid and before a judge gets the case. Manitoba's Front-End project clears the decks for judges, ensuring they only hear contested motions, bail applications, conduct hearings and trials and look after sentencing. Some of these kids will be shunted to a diversion program, freeing the system a little more.

In 90 minutes, the pretrial co-ordinator clears more than 20 cases.

My guy's got amateur tattoos on his hands, a common sight in the courtroom where young men and women shuffle in late, dressed in jeans and baggy sweatshirts. Most of them know enough to remove their hats. Some of the accused have spent sufficient time in a courtroom to know the drill. The majority are aboriginal.

One kid, flanked by his anxious parents, is wearing a suit. He stands out like a sore thumb. I suspect this is the last place any of them expected to end up.

Only a handful of kids have an adult beside them. Some are CFS wards but don't have a worker present. A couple of boys don't look old enough to take the bus alone but are old enough to be charged with crimes. There's no one with them either.

My guy's charged with breach of probation for failing to complete his community-service hours. That followed a conviction for break and enter and giving a false name to police. He's also facing trafficking charges

He spent 20 days in jail once, he says, because he missed a trial date. He says he thought the court would remind him to show up.

"I didn't see myself like this," he says outside court. "I'm trying to stay out of trouble."

He's been on his own since he was 17, when his father drove him to Winnipeg from their reserve and dropped him off. He's got a Grade 9 education. His mom helps him out a bit financially, he says, and he babysits for extra cash. He has spent a fair amount of time in the drunk tank. His two brothers are also involved in the criminal justice system. His 16-year-old brother is in the Manitoba Youth Centre. He has tried to get him to smarten up, not take after his big brother.

Inside the court, some of the kids chat. They've met before. Some exchange fist bumps and grins. They've found their way to the court on the right day and at the right time. That's more discipline than some have shown in their entire lives. One kid is present because he hasn't been going to school, a breach of his probation. He was also supposed to abstain from intoxicants. He hasn't.

Few of the accused look nervous. One kid puts his head on the seat in front of him and appears to fall asleep. A couple of guys have their girlfriends in tow. Some show signs of FASD. One girl seems lost and confused, barely able to gather up her belongings when her turn comes.

One teen is about to turn 19. He's here for breach of probation. He was caught stealing cars when he was 15. He was supposed to be attending school and hasn't. He says he's been in and out of the youth centre. His hands are decorated with homemade tattoos.

I ask him if he's scared of what might happen to him. He grins and shuffles a bit.

"No," he says, cocky. "I know how to handle this."

Justin George, 25, pumps his fist when he's told his charges have been stayed. He was 15 when he was caught with a set of nunchuks, a prohibited weapon in Manitoba. He was sentenced to community service but didn't complete his hours.

He says he didn't know there was a warrant out for his arrest. Earlier this year, the car he was riding in was pulled over for an illegal U-turn. It was four in the morning. He and a friend were headed to McDonald's. The cops ran George's name and out popped his history. He spent the night at the Public Safety Building. He lost his job.

When the session ends, I run into my guy on the front steps. He's on the phone.

"I have to pick up my brother," he says. "He had a court appearance this morning."

No parents. No adults. No chance.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 A5

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she wrote for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business -- though she joked she'd get around to them some day.

Sadly, that day will never come. Lindor died in October 2014 after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.

Lindor received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.

Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and was awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

Reynolds was 56. She is survived by a husband, mother, a daughter and son-in-law and three stepdaughters.

The Free Press has published an ebook celebrating the best of Lindor's work. It's available in the Winnipeg Free Press Store; all proceeds will be donated through our Miracle on Mountain charity to the Christmas Cheer Board.


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