Youth custody issue may go before Union of B.C. Municipalities

The regional youth justice committee plans to bring an emergency resolution to the Union of B.C. Municipalities this fall to lobby the province to keep the Victoria Youth Custody Centre open.

“This is more than a Vancouver Island issue, it’s a provincial issue. This is about keeping youth accessible to their families and that’s a concern in every municipality,” said Cynthia Day, chairwoman of the Victoria Family Court and Youth Justice Committee.

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“It reminds me of the residential school issue, where children were removed from their communities.”

The committee, which represents all 13 municipalities, three school districts and the Capital Regional District, is adding its voice to the mounting opposition to closing the youth jail.

Police, First Nations, local governments, lawyers, the provincial health officer and B.C.’s representative for children and youth are opposed to the closure, which was announced without any consultation.

Provincial court officials say some Victoria youth will have to spend time in police cells on pre-court detention, remand and short sentences.

Local police chiefs and mayors are meeting to discuss the issue today. Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin wants to gather a delegation to persuade the provincial government to keep the centre open and also keep youths out of police lockups.

According to Day, the youth justice committee will pass a resolution Wednesday calling on the government to keep the jail open and convert the vacant girl’s wing to a remand facility for women on Vancouver Island.

The committee will also ask one of the municipalities to take an emergency resolution to the UBCM convention in September.

The deadline for submitting resolutions has already passed, Day explained.

“Even if they had proceeded with the closure, we will be calling on them to reverse that decision and bring the kids back home.”

Day predicted the issue will not go away.

“I’ve never seen a resolution like this come forward where every municipality in the CRD is on board,” she said.

“I don’t think people will let the issue drop. There is a really excellent facility on Vancouver Island that is going to be terribly underutilized if they close down the youth custody centre.”

Day said she is not aware the government has done any economic analysis of the situation.

“We have not yet had an accounting of how economically viable the removal of girls from the centre has been,” said Day. “I believe that removing boys from their families and communities is not in the best interest of youth and may cost more money than it saves.”

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union is holding a community meeting tonight to discuss the provincial government’s “surprise decision” to close the centre.

The meeting will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the theatre at Reynolds Secondary School, 3963 Borden St.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.comc

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