Who is Responsible When Kids Commit Crime?

September 6, 2014
Ron Shulman

Article written by Ron Shulman

CBC News reported that a 9-year-old boy had stolen a Saskatoon city bus yesterday, and after managing to drive it for a few blocks, hit two vehicles before getting the bus stuck on a curb, where it stopped.   A bystander in a separate vehicle also managed to cut off the young driver, by positioning his own vehicle so that the boy could not easily drive the bus any further.

Fortunately, no one was injured, and the boy was returned to his family.   However – because he is well under 12, which is the legal age of criminal responsibility in Canada – the boy was not charged by police with any crime.  (Note however that children between the age of 12 and 17 can be charged with committing crimes under the Youth Criminal Justice Act).

Cases like this one raise a broader legal question:  Should parents be held morally, legally or financially responsible when their younger kids commit crime?

Admittedly, a joyride by a child so young is out-of-the-ordinary; one might justifiably gloss over the situation and call it merely an ill-advised “childhood prank”.  In this case, admittedly, there was some property damage but no injury to others (or even to the culprit himself).

But in the recent past there have been numerous instances across North America where downright heinous crimes have been committed by children, some of whom are only slightly older.  Inevitably, these incidents prompt not merely outrage, but also morality judgments and finger-pointing at the parents, who are themselves accused of poor, inattentive, or indifferent parenting, or whose own lifestyle choices are brought under scrutiny.

Are the parents at fault?  Or should the children themselves be held accountable?   Or both?

And from a legal standpoint the key question is this:  In this day and age where we often bemoan the fact that kids “grow up too fast” and are “mature beyond their years”, we should ask the question:  Is the 12-year-old legal limit for criminal responsibility in Canada too low?

What are your thoughts?