The closure of the Victoria Youth Custody Centre is the latest in a series of terrible decisions that will backfire on the government, a former youth court judge told a community meeting.
“The cavalier treatment of our troubled youth is going to come back and bite us some day if we don’t do something about it,” retired provincial court Judge Fred Green said.
More than 150 people — including youth custody workers, teachers, probation officers, drug and alcohol counsellors and the public — packed into the theatre at Reynolds Secondary School Tuesday to hear politicians and union leaders discuss their concerns about the pending closure.
“The fact that there are no female remand centres on Vancouver Island is appalling,” Green said. “The fact that female youth services are and will remain centralized in Burnaby is worse. And the proposed closure of the Victoria Youth Custody Centre and all youth custody services to be drawn at Burnaby and Prince George is the bitter icing on the cake.”
The B.C. government’s decision to close the centre, made without any consultation, means youth in Victoria will be held in police cells for pre-court detention, remand and short sentences.
“This, in my opinion, is unacceptable and possibly illegal,” said Green, who sat for four years as a full-time youth court judge.
Green told the audience he got to know youths, their parents and the people working with them. “That kind of connection from the judicial point of view, as far as I’m concerned, is absolutely necessary for the continuity, consistency and the accountability of the youth as well.”
Closing the facility and separating families from their children in custody will render it almost impossible for parents to spend meaningful time with their youth in custody, he said.
In 2011 and 2012, there were 1,061 youth cases before the court on Vancouver Island, Green said. “So we’re not talking about small numbers.”
The facility is not just important for youths in custody, said Esquimalt-Royal Roads MLA Maurine Karagianis. Their programs help youths stay in the community and not be incarcerated. “There are 40 young people in the community attached to the facility. Those heads are not counted by the government,” Karagianis said.
Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said Premier Christy Clark’s Families First agenda “is the most tragic punchline of this government.” With the number of aboriginal children in care in the justice system, there must be a duty to consult First Nations people, Chamberlin said. “We will work our damnedest to make sure this decision, which is so horribly wrong on so many fundamental levels, is overturned.”
Jeremy Berland, former director of child welfare, noted the Ministry for Children and Family Development has a budget of $1.6 billion and will save $4.5 million a year by closing the centre. “This decision is wrong,” he said.