YOUNG CRIMINAL MINDS

In Communities /

By Amy Smart

The person sitting next to you in chemistry class could be a murderer.

And according to Ryerson security, you don’t have a right to know.

“The university doesn’t do any kind of criminal background checks on the students, so we don’t know at all [if a student has a record],” said Imre Juurlink, Ryerson security supervisor.

The murderer-in-class scenario may sound far-fetched, but it almost happened earlier this year.

On Aug. 9, 2009, the Ottawa Sun published an article that said a young man involved in a grisly murder was planning to attend Ryerson at the beginning of this fall semester.

Two others charged alongside him pleaded guilty and received long sentences.

But the young man, just shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time of the murder, was charged as a young offender.

He was released from house arrest last summer, at the age of 23.

While the Youth Criminal Justice Act prohibits the publication of his identity, some students say they would like that information to be made public, especially in extreme cases.

“If it’s a murder case, then yes, I think that students should be informed,” said Rahanuma Wafa, a first-year engineering student. “I wouldn’t feel safe.”

Some students are more sympathetic to the ability of young offenders to adapt to a new social setting.

“Legally there’s not much you can do…. He could have simply made a mistake; he’s grown, he was young and foolish. I think [students should be informed], but unfortunately the way the laws are, we’re stuck,” said Gregg Pelletier, a third-year international economics and finance student.

Community support plays an important role in the rehabilitation process for offenders, said Barbara Benoliel, who works as a restorative justice trainer for PACT, a youth crime prevention program.

“While we’re hoping that… there will be sufficient programs for rehabilitation [in prison], it’s only the beginning,” she said.

Going back to school can be an important step, Benoliel said.

“Education is — as we know — a road toward the future.”

And while anonymity may not be realistic, an open-minded community has great potential to rehabilitate a young offender.

“Perhaps if he got a chance for people to know him, that would help reduce the fear and the difficulty,” Benoliel said.

“But will people give him that chance? I don’t know.”

In any case, Ryerson has no plans to change security procedures concerning young offenders attending the university.

“It’s up to the legal system to decide if someone is safe to be in society,” said Juurlink.

“It would be double jeopardy if the courts punish you and then Ryerson punishes you for the same behaviour.”

Mark Pugash, director of public information for the Toronto Police Services, said they have no specific policy for dealing with young offenders who have been released into society either.

“Simply because someone has committed a crime at some point in the past, that’s not enough,” he said. “There has to be a current threat and that’s what you deal with.”

The university is subject to the Ontario human rights code and cannot discriminate against a person for having a record of offences.

“You can disagree with the legal system all you want, but that’s what we have,” Juurlink said. “So if we need changes, that’s where it has to happen. Not the university.”

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