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This article was published 6/11/2013 (2584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg street gangs are increasingly turning to younger and younger recruits to do their so-called heavy lifting -- tasks that may include acts of cold-blooded murder.
Some may be surprised to see the face of a 14-year-old boy splashed across media this week, thanks to a rare court order that allows police to take extreme measures to find a youthful fugitive.
But news that someone so young is accused of something so violent barely registers a ripple anymore with senior police and justice officials.
"That's the prime age for indoctrination now. Actually even younger these days, like 11, 12, 13. The 14-year-olds are often already lost," a veteran source told the Free Press on Wednesday.
The youth is accused of gunning down a rival gang member this past summer as part of an ongoing turf war. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent on attempted murder charges.
These kids are being taught a totally different outlook on life and their perceptions are warped into gang-life type survival' ‐ justice source
"These kids are being taught a totally different outlook on life and their perceptions are warped into gang-life type survival," the source said.
Justice sources say another big reason for this disturbing "youth movement" is trying to circumvent the Youth Criminal Justice Act, where maximum penalties for even the most serious crimes are seen by the public as a bit of a joke.
As a result, young adult gang members will force a young underling to "prove their worth" by carrying out a crime on behalf of the gang, knowing the consequences aren't nearly as severe if they get caught.
For example, a teen under the age of 18 can only serve a maximum of six years in prison if convicted as a youth of first-degree murder. For second-degree murder, the limit is a four-year stint behind bars.
The Crown has the power to seek adult "life" sentences for youths who are at least 14, but even then they are eligible for parole after either 10 years (first-degree) or seven years (second-degree).
An adult who commits the same crime gets an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for between 10 and 25 years.
Gangs are aware of these major discrepancies in sentencing. And so it's little wonder some young adult member might hand over his knife or gun to a much younger criminal colleague with very specific instructions on what to do.
Such a scenario was revealed in court in September when a 16-year-old admitted to a brutal killing as part of a botched revenge plot for an earlier gang-attack.
James Sinclair was just 14 when he shot a stranger in the head, believing the man was a criminal rival. He was acting on behalf of the Indian Posse gang, believing he was avenging the killing days earlier of his friend, Clarke Stevenson, at the hands of the Most Organized Brothers (MOB).
"I did it pretty much because of what happened to my friend," Sinclair told police.
David Vincett, 20, was the innocent victim who was left to die on a Boyd Avenue boulevard in the September 2011 attack.
Sinclair pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced as an adult to life in prison without a chance of parole for seven years. Defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk had some revealing words at the sentencing hearing, saying Stevenson's death was like "gasoline" poured on the anger Sinclair was feeling.
"But unfortunately, that's the reality for a lot of young people in our city," Sawchuk said. "You have a very angry young man with a lot of other angry young people in the community, and unfortunately the events of that night came together in one constellation," he said.
Vincett's mother, Linda Kozlowski, told the Free Press it sickens her to see children so young with apparently no fear of consequences.
"This has to stop. But it feels like we're fighting a losing battle. It's not going to get any better," she said. "These kids all scream they want respect, they want respect, yet they don't respect each other. And where are they getting all these guns from? It's obviously not hard to get a gun these days. It's ridiculous. It used to be if you had a beef you'd maybe pop somebody (with a punch). Nowadays, you grab a gun and you go shoot them."
Manitoba justice officials have made it increasingly clear they will seek adult sentences against many violent young offenders, even in cases that don't involve death.
Last month, a Winnipeg teen was sentenced as an adult to 10 years in prison for the rape and robbery of a stranger inside her Fort Richmond home that occurred when he was 17.
In September, a gang member was sentenced as an adult to seven years in prison for a spree of random attacks that put six people in hospital. The teen was just 15 at the time he began robbing, stabbing and beating anyone he came in contact with during a September 2011 spree.
For now, going after violent youths with adult sentences is the only weapon justice officials have. But even that has its limits, as 12- and 13-year-old offenders are "untouchable" and remain under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Don't think for a second street gangs aren't blissfully aware of that.
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.