Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
The poster boy for change?
Is there anyone out there who doesn't think Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act needs some serious overhauling?If so, I'd like to introduce them to Gene Soldat.As I write in Wednesday's Free Press
, the 18-year-old Winnipegger could be the poster child for the much-maligned YCJA.Soldat racked up a staggering 82 convictions between the ages of 12-17 - with nearly every single offence for stealing cars and wreaking havoc on city streets.Yet Soldat never served more than a few months at a time behind bars - just enough for him to likely drop in to say hello to some old friends, brag about his latest criminal exploits, maybe pick up a new trick or two and then be quickly ushered out the door back into the community.All in the name of "rehabilitation", which the YCJA makes crystal clear can be the only factor in deciding a sentence for a young offender.Well, it certainly set Soldat on the right path, didn't it?While serving his most recent jail stint in 2006, Soldat was given a free pass to leave the facility during the daytime for the purposes of work.He apparently clocked in for three straight days, then decided he'd had enough of following rules and pulled a vanishing act.Police caught up to him a few weeks later - after he'd stolen a few cars, capped up by a high-speed chase in which he drove over boulevards, ran stop signs and red lights and drove into oncoming traffic while going more than 30 km/h over the speed limit.He later told officers he did it because it was "fun."Oh, did I mention what Soldat had been in jail for?Soldat was the so-called "ringleader" of a group of teens who, in late 2004, turned the city of Winnipeg into their own personal video game.The boys were responsible for stealing five cars — three of which were written off — and damaging 38 others, including a police car that was destroyed in a high-speed crash.They also sent one car smashing through the window of an empty River Heights apartment block by pinning down the accelerator with a brick — an incident the building realtor described as an act of “terrorism.” A resident ended up trapped in the rubble of his own washroom when the roof collapsed.
Soldat and his crew also sent another car into a house, startling the sleeping resident and causing extensive damage. A few others were sent flying onto the frozen river.The group also left numerous senior citizens in tears by targeting an underground parking lot in North Kildonan for most of their senseless acts of vandalism on Boxing Day 2004.Soldat again explained his criminal conduct as being fun.I remember one of the elderly women calling my radio show days later, crying about what had happened and wondering what the world was coming to. I had no answer for her.Soldat received his biggest youth sentence of all for this crime spree - a grand total of one year in jail and six months of probation.Of course, he ultimately made a mockery of that sentence. Just as he did for all the others.Now Soldat has entered a new phase of his criminal lifestyle. Even though he was still just 17 at the time of his most recent spree, Soldat has been raised to adult court.The punishment judges weren't legally allowed to dish out as a youth is now very much in play - although many will no doubt scoff at the chances of any real justice being dished out.On Tuesday, the Crown said Soldat should serve another 30 to 36 months in jail, in addition to all the pre-trial custody he's done since his arrest.Not surprisingly, Soldat's lawyer is seeking something less. In fact, Jody Ostapiw says he should simply be given time in custody and immediately returned to society so her client has "a little bit of hope."Queen's Bench Justice Karen Simonsen says she needs some time to think it over and has reserved her verdict.Something tells me the general public would be able to render a much quicker decision.Meanwhile, the federal conservaties are currently studying changes to the YCJA.They'll obviously come far too late in the case of Gene Soldat. But they can't come soon enough based on the fact there are many more Gene Soldat's out there, secure in the knowledge that the law as it stands can't do a single thing to make them think twice about how they get their kicks.www.mikeoncrime.com