KAMLOOPS - A provincial court judge let a 15-year-old Victoria girl out of a potential three-month jail sentence because she was improperly held in Kamloops city cells for five days in “unacceptable conditions,” her lawyer says.
The girl was locked up in city cells for five days without seeing a judge, in part because Kamloops has no facilities for young women. The girl was arrested June 30 for breaching a condition of her probation. She spent the next four nights and five days in lockdown with no access to a shower or a private toilet while she slept on a bench under 24-hour lighting.
When the case finally got before Judge Robert Higinbotham in Victoria youth court, he ignored the Crown’s three-month sentence recommendation and ordered her released on time served because of the conditions under which she was held, according to the Victoria Times-Colonist.
“She suffered from some rather unique penalties by virtue of the fact that she is a young person and she is a woman,” Higinbotham said, according to the Times-Colonist. “There are no facilities in the Kamloops area for youth, let alone female youth.... This means, for the period of time she was in Kamloops, she was out of touch with her support network in Victoria. She was kept in poor facilities — no proper bed, no facilities for showering and in the company of adults in various stages of intoxication in adjoining cells and in various degrees of distress from mental illness.”
The Youth Criminal Justice Act requires youth to be held separately from adults. Her lawyer, Richard Schwartz, has complained to B.C.’s children’s watchdog, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde about her treatment which he calls "entirely unacceptable."
“Keep in mind, this (was) a person who (had) not been found guilty of any offence,” he says.
She had a brief hearing with a justice of the peace within 24 hours, as the law requires, and was ordered to appear in person in Burnaby—the only place in the province that can accommodate a female minor. According to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, she should have been flown out immediately, Schwartz says.
But due to complications with scheduling and the statutory holiday, she was held for five days while she waited for an escorted flight to the lower mainland. She missed the court-directed hearing because of what Schwartz calls “transport issues.”
“They do have protocols in place, arrangements for the transport of young female offenders and it seems that in Kamloops the understanding is that they should be using Air Canada,” Schwartz says. “Why that’s the case, I don’t know. Why they would resort to and only to Air Canada.”
Air Canada requires 24-hour notice before flying a female youth in custody, contributing to the delay.
The girl wasn’t transported to Burnaby until July 4. She didn’t see a judge until Tuesday, July 8 when she attended Victoria youth court. Her name cannot be published by law.
She originally travelled to Kamloops from Victoria to attend drug rehabilitation, as part of a probation order on other offences. She left the program before completing it and was arrested by Kamloops RCMP for breaching her probation order.
Schwartz says while this was an unusual case, it highlights a problem in how the province treats youth—an issue that goes beyond just his client.
"Hopefully we can learn from this," he said.
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