A miracle snuffed out

The rehabilitation of a 17-year-old Yukon girl who underwent the miraculous transformation from convicted killer to honour-roll student may prove short-lived, thanks to the shortsightedness of Yukon government officials.

The rehabilitation of a 17-year-old Yukon girl who underwent the miraculous transformation from convicted killer to honour-roll student may prove short-lived, thanks to the shortsightedness of Yukon government officials.

“Once again, bureaucracy has done battle with humanity, and humanity has got decidedly the worst of it,” wrote Justice John Faulkner in a blistering ruling on June 23.

The girl, known only as J.D. to protect her identity, was convicted of manslaughter earlier this year after she fatally stabbed, without provocation, her mother’s deadbeat boyfriend.

She couldn’t explain why she did it. Neither could the psychiatrist who prepared J.D.‘s pre-sentencing report.

Faulkner found the girl displayed “a troubling lack of remorse or regret for her actions.”

After five months in custody at a young offenders’ facility, the girl was released to live with her high school guidance counsellor and his wife. Faulkner called the couple’s intervention “heaven-sent” and “about as fine an illustration of the generosity of the human spirit as can be imagined.”

For the next 18 months, they supported J.D. “without a penny’s contribution” from the girl’s parents or the government.

J.D. began that period as “an indifferent student whose primary interest was in alcohol and drugs.” By the end, she had graduated with honours from high school, was nominated for valedictorian and was accepted to the University of Alberta.

She had also worked steadily at a part-time job, with “glowing” reports by her boss. And her observance of release conditions were “flawless.”

“To say the turnaround has been remarkable is to risk understatement,” wrote Faulkner. “Although the book telling the full tale of this crime may be as yet unfinished, a chapter on redemption has surely been added.”

Then the guidance counsellor lost his job in Whitehorse. Soon, he and his wife are moving to Edmonton.

They offered to put up J.D. there. Given her hopes of attending university in the city, “such an offer was as fortuitous as it was generous,” wrote Faulkner.

“Unfortunately, such is not to be.”

The couple is now living “on a much-reduced income.” They can’t afford to care for J.D. without financial assistance, “particularly since they have children of their own to educate.”

Providing financial help to the couple was a “no-brainer,” wrote Faulkner. But the Yukon government wouldn’t do it.

“J.D.‘s situation did not fit in any of the Department of Health and Social Services’ pigeon holes – the department’s broad mandate in the areas of social welfare, child protection and youth justice notwithstanding,” wrote Faulkner.

The territory’s only “not terribly helpful suggestion” was that the counsellor and his wife pursue money from J.D.‘s parents. They were unwilling to do so.

One solution presented itself. If the couple’s residence were designated an open-custody facility, they could receive government support.

“The court had been thrown a lifeline,” wrote Faulkner, “but it was quickly yanked back.”

Officials insisted that a home study be completed. “What would be left to study is difficult to say, considering that J.D. had been in said home for 18 months, all the while monitored by Youth Justice,” wrote Faulkner. “Miracles have been worked therein.

“Still, there appeared hope that sense would ultimately prevail and the right thing would be done.”

No such luck. The home study was never done, “because Youth Justice officials in Alberta had determined, in their infinite wisdom, that they would not accept an arrangement with the Yukon that would allow J.D. to serve an open-custody sentence.”

Albertan officials wanted J.D. in a group home. And Yukon officials appeared “unwilling or unable to come up with any other plan (or even a suggestion) as to how it could facilitate J.D. remaining” with the couple, Faulkner wrote.

Instead, the government proposed to send J.D. to live with her aunt in Ontario. “This was hardly satisfactory as I knew nothing of the aunt, her character or her circumstances in life.”

So Faulkner sent J.D. back into custody for 12 months. Instead of attending university in the autumn, she will likely spend that time at a young offenders’ facility, “fraternizing with exactly the people she should be avoiding like the plague.

“The opportunity to turn this girl’s life around and make of her a contributing and non-violent member of society may be irrevocably lost.

“I hope against hope that something better than the young offender’s facility can be found. I hope against hope that the period of custody will do no worse than delay J.D.‘s plans to further her rehabilitation and her education.”

Faulkner concluded, “I depart from this case a sadder, but not a wiser, man.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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