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This article was published 8/10/2016 (1812 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He is a frequent runaway, a thorn in the side of law enforcement and a worst-case scenario for child-welfare officials in Manitoba.
Now 11, the 65-pound boy with the sweet, innocent-looking face has been involved in numerous criminal incidents — an arson, car thefts, possession of drugs and weapons, robberies, assaults, uttering death threats and a near-fatal stabbing — but can't be charged because of his tender age. The Youth Criminal Justice Act doesn't cover kids under the age of 12.
He is untouchable at this point in his life.
The Free Press first wrote about the boy and the challenges facing both law enforcement and child welfare authorities in March. Because he is under the care of Child and Family Services, the government agency and officials associated with his file won't discuss it.
However, we recently sat down with his biological grandfather, who has been his primary caregiver since he was three days old. The grandfather provided a detailed background of a dysfunctional family unit, an update on the boy's current situation and a tiny glimmer of hope.
"It's certainly a start. They've got him on the starting line, but he's got a couple of marathons to go," says Dr. Fred Shane, a criminal psychiatrist who has provided expert testimony at dozens of trials across Canada, about the latest developments.
Shane says there is no quick fix for the "deeply, profoundly troubled little boy" who he fears could go the "Charles Manson way," if something doesn't change.
After meeting with the boy's grandfather, a clearer picture has emerged about how the boy reached this troubling stage.
'You're going to end up dead'
"I don’t think he cares. I really don't think he cares," the grandfather says as he takes a sip of coffee inside a Main Street Tim Hortons. Tears well up in his eyes.
"I don’t think he understands, or realizes the consequences. I've told him, 'You're going to have to take responsibility for your own actions. When you're 12 they're gonna grab you, you're gonna end up in jail.' But right now they can’t do nothing."
The grandfather says he's tried putting fear into the boy — relating his own lengthy history with the criminal justice system. He was involved in a deadly stabbing in the 1970s and ended up doing 12 years in prison for manslaughter. He's been in and out of custody many times since, most recently in 2009 when his grandson was just five.
"I tried talking to him, telling him you can't be doing this. Only two things are going to happen if you carry on this type of life — you're going to end up dead, or you're going to end up in jail."
Neither of the boy's biological parents have played much of a role in his life, the grandfather says.
His son — the boy's father — has been linked in court to Winnipeg's gang and drug trade and previously survived a shooting in which a friend was killed. There are still people who want him dead, the grandfather says.
The boy's mother is currently facing a long list of charges related to the sex trade, along with drug and weapons offences. She allowed her son's grandparents to care for him just days after he was born. The grandparents had done the same two years earlier with the boy's older brother was born.
"They weren't prepared to be raising children," the grandfather says.
There were concerns about the boy's well-being, especially after his mother overdosed on prescription pills and alcohol just days before he was born. "I believe this has a lot to do with him and the way he developed," he says.
The first few years were normal, he recounts, as the family was living in rural Manitoba. "There weren't any bad things in their lives."
Their lives significantly changed around 2009. There were domestic issues between the grandfather and his partner; he was ultimately charged with possessing a weapon and other offences and spent more than a year in custody. The grandmother moved to Winnipeg with their children and the grandson.
The grandfather says many in his family, including his teenage daughter, began getting mixed up in drugs and gangs, troubling situations to which the boy was exposed. The grandfather got out of jail in late 2010 and moved to Edmonton, believing it was best to increase the distance between him and his estranged partner.
The grandfather says he got a call in June 2011 saying CFS in Winnipeg had seized the boy and his older brother, citing concerns about drug activity and paraphernalia in the grandmother's home. The boys were put in a temporary foster home under a six-month placement order. The Caucasian family that took them in spoiled the boys rotten, the grandfather says.
"It was very inspiring to (the boys)," he says, referring to fun activities with the foster parents such as snowmobiling and off-road adventures. "But I wanted the boys home. I wanted them back where they should have been, where they belong."
The boys were returned to the grandmother in February 2012. The grandfather was still estranged from her, but returned to Winnipeg and would frequently spend time with the boys.
That's when he noticed the changes.
"When the boys came home, they showed this defiance, these tantrums, which was never there before," he says. The boy, now seven, began wetting the bed and refusing to follow directions.
"I asked them, 'What happened to my boys? You’re not the same boys,'" he says. The grandfather and his estranged partner had completed some parenting and anger-management programs mandated by CFS. He took over primary care from his partner a short time later, but life would never be the same.
Staying out all night
Last winter, the grandfather rented a rooming house and opened up some rooms for other tenants because he was having trouble making ends meet while on disability from work. The tenants included a group of meth users and dealers who had frequent parties.
"I made a couple wrong choices," he says. "I tried and I tried and I tried to keep (his grandson) away from them. But there was just too much going on. They became more influential, for him to see what was going on. It wasn’t right."
It was around this time that the boy began staying out all night, sometimes not returning home for a day or two. The grandfather tried to establish rules and "raise my voice" but nothing worked.
"He would say, 'I promise, Dad, I'll be good, I'll come home.' Then the same thing would happen the next day," the grandfather says. He recalls a time standing outside his grandson's second-floor bedroom door, trying to have a conversation with they boy.
"Here I am thinking I'm talking to him, but he had jumped out the window and was gone."
Police became regular visitors at his door, often returning the child along with news of his latest criminal endeavour. Records obtained by the Free Press show at least 22 different criminal incidents between 2013 and earlier this year.
"They would ask me what are you going to do? I would say to them: 'I need some help, I need help. I'm trying so much,'" the grandfather says. "I was horrified. I couldn't do anything about it. I told him, 'C'mon, you can't do this, you’ve got to straighten out.'"
He says police didn't help matters.
"They have not been very good to (his grandson). I hated it when I saw how they were treating him. They weren’t treating him like a 10-year-old boy," he says. "You don’t treat someone so violently. How do you think he’s going to be, how do you think he’s going to react? Granted, I respect they have a job to do. But you get better performance, better respect by showing respect."
Last spring, the boy's mother contacted him, looking for a place to stay. He took her in — but he says it was a mistake, pointing to her long list of pending criminal charges.
She began to form a relationship with her son for the first time and was "spoiling him like crazy" with new clothes, runners and other items while not being a positive role model. The grandfather points to a number of photos he has that shows them, essentially, partying together.
"It became quite bad, it became out of control," he says.
That's when CFS stepped in for a second time, once again seizing the boy and his brother under a temporary guardianship order. They've been in CFS care since, and the grandfather says he doesn't know when they'll be back.
And the problems haven't gone away. The boy has fled from his foster placement at least four times, usually returning to his grandfather's home, where police eventually track him down.
"They'd (on rare occasions, the boy's brother joins him) always come back to me, because they know Dad will always look after me, Dad will take care of me," he says. "In my opinion it all stems down to the fact he wanted us as a family to be back together. This is what (his grandson) really wanted. This was his way of acting out. He was taken away from where he felt safe and warm."
It's not too late
Following his most recent escape in late summer, the boy was placed in a locked treatment facility that specializes in at-risk youth. It's the first time such an intervention has occurred.
"I think he's being offered something positive. I think this could be the start of years of intervention that will hopefully be maintained," Shane told the Free Press this week. "He's obviously still very young. He's the sort of kid who's going to have to be followed for many years. But he's young, that doesn't mean people aren't capable of changing."
Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding addressed the situation in August. He said the provincial government was working on solutions.
"We're not into making policy on the fly," Fielding told reporters when asked about the province's responsibilities to deal with the child. "The individual case, I can't comment specifically on that. We're obviously going to work with the authorities. We need to develop a plan for this individual."
The grandfather made his first visit to the facility last month, as the boy was celebrating his 11th birthday. He doesn't know what the future holds but bristles at some of the public comments he's heard and read: lock up the boy and throw away the key.
"Why would you do that? You’re just giving up on someone. It’s not too late. Not whatsoever. I believe that we can turn (his grandson) around," he says.
He's also heard comments suggesting family members don't care.
"Here I am, a 58-year-old man walking the streets in -32 C at 11 o clock at night searching for his boys, and I'm not being responsible?" he says, adding he took the boy to several programs and churches hoping to find a solution.
"I want him back so badly, I would do anything to have my family back," he says.
The boy had a mental-health assessment done last March and was assessed as having ADHD and FASD, which makes successful treatment all the more difficult.
"He can't sit still. Any longer than maybe two minutes and he’s antsy, he’s moving. But he’s good when he’s on his medication," he says.
Clearly a unique case
The Free Press has spoken with several local experts in the field of criminal justice and forensic psychology. All agree the case is unique and alarming.
"This is something that should scare the hell out of society," Steven Kohm, head of the criminal justice department at the University of Winnipeg, said earlier this year. "It's almost like this is a worst-case scenario, a culmination of all the fears surrounding the child-welfare system and these lost kids. It seems everything has failed."
Frank Cormier, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Manitoba, said earlier this year it's not too late to get the boy on the right path in life — but he fears much of society is already prepared to declare him a lost cause.
"At 10 years of age, humans are still very malleable. There is still an awful lot of development a child is doing," he said. "I think it's a terrible thing for people to write this child off."
At the time, Cormier suggested a secured youth facility with intensive treatment would be the best option.
Shane says there will be no quick fix.
"He continues to be high-risk because of his past behaviour, his social background. This is an uphill battle," he says. "The fact they've got him this young is great. I think the intervention now is good. But it's inside him — the good, the bad and the ugly that he continues to struggle with. He's very vulnerable... all the bad voices in his head."
Shane says it's especially important to act now, rather than wait until the boy turns 12. The justice system often makes bad situations worse, he says.
"The big issue for him is how long these rehabilitative resources can be available to him," he says. "Is he going to be able to develop some solid relationships that will stick with him? It's a day-to-day thing, but the fact something is being done now is a good thing."
The grandfather believes the future is still bright, despite the rocky road so far. He has plans to get the boy out of Manitoba once his treatment is complete and CFS returns him to his care, assuming that happens.
"I think (his grandson) is going to be fine. This treatment, all this stuff, it’s going to be good for him. From there I'm taking him away. I'm going to get him the hell out of here."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.