It’s like a play. The stage managers come dress the stage (ie, pin up the day’s docket). The youth straggle in, sheepishly. The lawyers in slick shoes and careful collars glide in. And then the Crown’s prosecutor wheels in her laden cart. It strikes me that the cart is red. Burning hot red files wheel by.
The arrivals, the departures, the occasional appearance of other concerned mothers, some in patten leather, some in Uggs boots al la their heavily made-up daughters, some pushing baby strollers. Few fathers. Lots of scraggy girls friends accompanying thuggish looking boys with hard looks on their faces. The girls, like they are starring in their own tv “reality shows”, texting to friends outside court. Too many babies in strollers wheeling by, little children in training to go to court. Heartbreaking.
We file in to the court room, seating proximate to irascible, troubled children, next to blazed youth reaking of marijuana and stale cigarettes, odours permutating the mixed stink of fear and anxiety wafting around the cologne, gabardine, leather briefcases. The files, clerks, legal reps, passing papers, whispered messages shifting by.
Moments after the judge enters the court, son’s lawyer passes his business card to him, to son’s father, then on to me. Then, minutes later, son’s lawyer whispers to me, “So it is on the matter of mischief, that is the charge.” What? What happened to possesion and concealment of a prohibited weapon? My one hope for real action to finally have the court mandate son into residential drug treatment. What happened?
I rise, bow to the bench, approach son’s probation officer, seated in the front row, leaning in I whisper asking, What happened to the second charge? “I don’t know: it’s between Crown and police,” she replies.
I return to sit, aghast. Waiting. Sitting there with a letter I prepared asking for a pre-sentencing report quietly tucked into my bag, in case I have a chance to address the court. Or someone. Hope sitting in a letter.
File by file, youth or their agents ring out the charges, the “held over” dates.
Bing! Break time. After the Sheriff can’t get the video hearing details sorted, after 8 youth have dates held over. Shuffle, shuffle. File out of the courtroom.
In the foyer, where the People’s Work actually gets done, I ask son’s probation officer again, “What happened.?” She convenes with Crown, will ask her to come over to speak with me. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Then, she approaches, The Provincial Crown Prosecutor.
It was deemed a warrantless search of son’s pack, therefore not a charge that can be prosecuted; charge was dropped.
If you are still reading, here is the back story: this is third time son has come before the court, on trafficking, mischief, theft. Over 4 dozen missing person’s reports. Assaults, bad acid trips, ketamine, ectasy, chronic self medicating with marijuana, failed probation yet no breaching son, hope in the only form of the court intervening. Youth justice system has been the only “help” in addressing son’s very troubling issues (street-involved, at risk, duo drug/ alcohol and mental health issues, over several years; probation, mental health assessments, any drug will do, alcohol blackouts; a father who is a mental health pro yet does not provide the spine and limits son has needed, is as clinically accustomed to the lack of efficacy in his own work world, and who adds to son’s issues with his own troubling past).
Yet, the people’s work happens in the foyer. The Prosecutor hears from me a brief summary of son’s troubles, that many of the professionals in his life support the need for residential treatment. And the law, the misguided law, says Youth: Do Whatever You Want – it is your choice whether to access treatment. AND, Parents: You Have No Say.
The Prosecutor states the limits within which she can operate: youth criminal justice is explicit that youth criminal justice CANNOT be used for child protection purposes. What about the Ministry of Children AND FAMILY, she asks. I scoff in reply: as I want my son home, the MCF deems the matter not a child protection issue: MCF says to son, Go home. Son sleeps in parks, on couches, comes home only in times of extreme illness, abuses me, commits break and enter, steals from me, is a thief, a dealer, uses me then leaves. On and on, year by year.
Further, a pre-sentencing report can ONLY be requested if son pleads or is found guilty. (On mischief – agh, such a little charge, which will be minimized by son’s lawyer to “protect his client’s rights and interest”, the law falls down and will NOT protect son’s best interest).
Son’s probation officer indicates to son that he will not be welcomed back home after court. So the son lashes out at the mother, in the foyer, for being rejected from the home he has spent less than 3 months in over the past 3 years. The father stands there as usual, slack jawed, silent and only speaks when all other of us have hashed out the possibilities, the avenues available to seek help for this kid. Father just states what he’s heard, looking to be the good guy.
MYST officer (Mobile Youth Specialized Team or some such name – a special unit of VICPD) meets me in foyer, where the work of the people really happens. She counsels me to step back, let my son fry, cause himself more and further harm, let him go to jail if that is the case.
To cap it, son’s laissez faire drug and alcohol counselor tells son that residential treatment isn’t effective. Forensics counsellor, the professional who has had the longest therapeutic relationship with son supports residential treatment as outpatient counselling, left up to son to attend, has been ineffective in addressing underlying psychological issues.
The people’s work gets done in the foyer but the work is never done, never accomplished, never satisfactory.
The law must stretch, bend and become supple enough to protect a mother’s right to obtain help for her child.
Anything short of this aim is criminal.