Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/3/2016 (511 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He stands four-foot-nine, weighs just 60 pounds and recently celebrated his 10th birthday. But don’t be fooled by his small frame or tender age -- this Winnipeg boy has proven to be untouchable, and perhaps unstoppable, to law enforcement, the justice system and the child welfare system.
Arson. Car theft. Drug possession. Robberies. Thefts. Break-and-enters. Assaults. Weapon possession. Uttering death threats. And a near-fatal stabbing. He has done them all, yet suffered absolutely no consequences because he’s too young to be arrested and face charges.
Winnipeg police have been dealing with him for the past several years on a regular basis, powerless to do anything more than scold him and send him on his way. The Free Press has obtained a list of every contact officers have had with the boy, who is a ward of Child and Family Services and the son of a convicted killer.
It paints a troubling picture of his violent past and bleak future. But it also raises questions about the much-maligned child welfare system and how little is seemingly working to prevent him from becoming another grim statistic.
"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 Tuesday. "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."
The Free Press must be careful not to identify the youth, but here’s what we can say about him:
- Police have dealt with him on at least 22 different occasions since 2013 for various criminal offences in which he’s been "cautioned," which is all police can do. You must be at least 12 before you can be charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In his case, he’s been either eight, nine or ten when the crimes occurred. The most serious was a stabbing last year in which the victim was critically injured.
- The first contact police ever had with the boy was back in May 2011, when they were called to a residence to check on his well-being. He was five at the time. There have been several "child welfare" calls involving him ever since, the most recent occurring earlier this month.
- He is in foster care, and appears to have bounced around to numerous inner-city and North End homes over the years. He has an assigned case worker, social worker and several family contacts. They don’t include his biological father, who is in prison for murder.
- The boy has gone missing on several occasions, and was briefly taken into custody two weeks ago on the strength of a Mental Health warrant. He was assessed at hospital, then released back into care in the community where he apparently remains. It’s not clear what kind of treatment occurred, or whether future appointments were scheduled.
- It doesn’t appear there is much in the way of schooling happening -- save for police serving him with an order not to attend a specific school following a complaint by officials last month.
'All the red lights are going off'
"It’s frightening. Obviously he’s a deeply, profoundly troubled little boy," Dr. Fred Shane, a forensic psychiatrist who has provided expert testimony at dozens of trials across Canada, told the Free Press on Tuesday.
Shane has spent his career getting inside the minds of the most hardened criminals, many who suffered from psychotic disorders. He has seen many who suffered horrendous childhoods, but admits this particular boy has the kind of rap sheet you rarely see at his age.
"The issue is how do you protect this kid, and how do you protect the community? The fear, of course, is that he will go the Charles Manson way," said Shane. "The alarm bells here, all the red lights are going off."
Shane said it’s obvious the boy hasn’t fallen through the proverbial cracks in the sense that he has supports in his life along with frequent contact with justice officials. But Shane questioned how much is actually being done to help him -- and whether any of it is actually effective.
"The people caring for him need to get him some significant intervention," said Shane. "This has got to be looked at very seriously by the authorities. This is a herculean task. You need an incredible committed team to be working with him."
Several justice sources familiar with the boy told the Free Press they are simply counting down the days until he turns 12, when they fully expect he will start to become a fixture at the Manitoba Youth Centre.
But is he already a lost cause?
Kohm said the boy’s horrible history, including his father’s involvement in a homicide, makes it an uphill climb. As does the fact he’s likely already conditioned to believe there are little, if any, consequences for his actions.
"He may have profound psychological conditioning that has gone untreated. I think there’s been one failure after the next in terms of providing adequate intervention," said Kohm. "People who read about this will, and should, be horrified. This kid will probably have lifelong contact with the justice system."