Open letter to Health and Social Services Glenn Hart and Justice Minister Marian Horne:
In recent weeks, I have asked Minister Hart to meet to discuss the outcome of the case of the young woman sentenced last month to a year in the Young Offenders Facility because of a failure of the Health and Social Services Department to develop an effective and collaborative care plan. He has refused.
As set out in a letter to him and his colleague, Justice Minister Marian Horne, the message they have delivered by their inaction is in sharp contrast to the words spoken by the Yukon Party government with respect to restorative justice initiatives.
Worse still, their unwillingness to direct their respective officials to find a more thoughtful and compassionate response further erodes any hope we might have had that this government had any serious intention of implementing a social inclusion strategy.
In his decision, the presiding judge stated her caregivers’ decision to provide shelter, clothing, guidance and support is “as about as fine a demonstration of the generosity of the human spirit as can be imagined. Just as astonishing is that (they) continued to care for her for a period of 18 months and did so without a penny’s contribution from her parents or the state.”
In describing the transformative change that occurred in the young woman over the course of those 18 months, the judge indicated it was an “understatement to call it remarkable.” He went on to say “it is in everyone’s interest for the arrangement to continue.”
It was the court’s assessment this young woman had demonstrated her commitment to turning her life around.
I am not alone in finding it astounding that, as the judge said: “One would be forgiven for thinking that providing some monetary support to (the caregivers) is a no-brainer, however, I was advised that for various reasons involving program parameters and eligibility tests (her) situation did not fit into any of the Department of Health and Social Services pigeonholes Ã the Department’s broad mandate in social welfare, child welfare and youth justice notwithstanding.”
The decision of the court in this case sets out a clear failure by the ministers responsible for Health and Social Services and Justice, the judge continued. “Yukon seems unwilling or unable to come up with any other plan (or even suggestion) as to how it could facilitate the young woman remaining with the caregivers” for the remaining period of her court ordered care.”
As the judge put it, “we have been robbed of the best solution. Once again, bureaucracy has done battle with humanity, and humanity has got decidedly the worst of it.”
Along with the many citizens who have contacted me about this case, I believe that to abandon this young woman now at this critical point in her rehabilitative process demands an explanation from the ministers responsible.
This young woman has demonstrated, to the court’s satisfaction, she has both the capacity and commitment to attend university and pursue a degree. By failing to provide the modest assistance requested there is a real danger she could give up, being ensnared in the criminal justice system for years to come, with substantial costs to both her and to society.
If Hart and Horne truly believed in the potential for rehabilitation and restorative justice, they would work with the court to make it possible for this young woman to serve her one-year, open-custody sentence at her caregivers’ new home in Alberta.
I have asked Hart to intervene personally and direct his officials to work with the couple who stepped up when nobody else would to provide care for this young woman.
In the spirit of restorative justice, I have asked Hart to fully explore all options open to him as the minister responsible. I also encouraged him to communicate directly with his counterpart in Alberta to explore options available to assist this young woman and her caregivers.
I find Hart’s and Horne’s unwillingness or inability to do more to help this young woman start a new life heartbreaking and troubling.
A little more compassion, and a little less inflexibility, would go a long way in helping this young woman along the path to rebuilding her life.
Yukon New Democratic Party leader
MLA, Whitehorse Centre