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Youth Justice Committee hoping to expand

Elk Point and District Youth Criminal Justice Committee is hot on the trail of new members, and hosted an open house last Wednesday to introduce the program to potential recruits.

Elk Point and District Youth Criminal Justice Committee is hot on the trail of new members, and hosted an open house last Wednesday to introduce the program to potential recruits.

Chaired by Cathy Ockerman, the committee also currently includes three members who have been with the group since its start: Sharil Baumgardner, Jeanny Duffee and Lyle Frisby. “Ideally, we’d lie to have 10 or 12 members,” Ockerman says. Cst. Troy Feero and Cst. Pedro Rodriguez are the committee’s RCMP liaison. The committee is sanctioned by the Minister of Justice under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and has the mandate to give extrajudicial sanctions to young people age 12 to 18 who run afoul of the law.

Frisby says the committee got its start with a discussion one year at the annual Information Night. “RCMP Cst. Justin Tremblay had this idea. Then it was legislated that every community should have a committee. Originally, some of the town council sat on it, and as the mayor, I was one of them. John Paquette was the first chair, and when he moved out of town, I took over and stayed as chair until Cathy came along.”

The committee covers an area from Atimoswe Creek eastward, “the same area as our fire protection area,” Frisby says. “Frog Lake and Fishing Lake have their own committees, but what committee deals with a case depends on where a crime happened.”

Case files come to the committee from the RCMP, probation orders or the courts, and typically, they deal with one to two cases a year, Frisby says. “When we do see a youth, it takes about four to six hours. We meet with the arresting officer and go over the case file. They will tell us what went on, and this helps to understand. Then we meet with the youth and the parents.”

“They have to admit their guilt, be remorseful and be willing to go with the program.”

Essays, letters of apology, posters and community service are among the punishments the committee imposes on the youth they deal with. They also educate the youth about what could have happened if they had been charged as a result of their actions.

“We tell them, ‘this is your one-time get-out-of-jail-free card,’ they can never come back to the youth justice committee,” Frisby says. “After that, they immediately go into the justice system.”

“We’re not here to give them an easy way out, but instead an educated way out,” Baumgardner adds.

Clients go through a very thorough interview process, both with their parents and by themselves, and committee members says their job is “not to be intimidating. They have already admitted guilt. Our job is to make them learn.”

And learn, they apparently do: Ockerman said only one of the clients from the past 10 years has re-offended.

Operating costs for the committee are funded by the province, and allows the members to take training. “There’s a lot to learn,” Ockerman says. “You never ask yes-or-no questions, and you try and relate to them on a personal level.”

“You learn how to ask questions and make them open up,” Frisby adds.

“You get a good idea of their thought processes, Ockerman notes. “Each answer makes you ask another question. We let them known that we aren’t there to judge them.”

Following the interviews, Frisby says, “we come up with a penalty, and they have to agree with it. We write up a contract with them, and a timeline.”

Members of the committee have to take an oath of confidentiality, and any notes made during an interview have to be destroyed. One of the committee members becomes a contact person for that youth, but “if we meet them on the street, wd don’t know each other. It’s important that they know it’s all kept confidential.”

Ockerman admits that, “sometimes it’s not easy. You can’t change what’s happening at home or at school, but you can make a difference. Some get more out of it than others, and make positive connections. Being part of the committee really opens your eyes. It’s good to know you can make a positive difference.”

Anyone interested in becoming part of the Youth Criminal Justice Committee is asked to call Cathy Ockerman for more information at 780-724-2443.

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